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Culture Ministry launches investigation into 'Black Rubber Shoes' contract

March 30, 2023 - 14:24 By Park Ga-young
Lee Woo-jin, the co-creator of “Black Rubber Shoes” and the deceased cartoonist Lee Yoo-young's younger brother, gets emotional during a press conference at the National Assembly in Seoul on Monday. (Yonhap)

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism on Thursday announced that it has launched a special investigation team that will look into a complaint filed about the contract for the comic and cartoon series “Black Rubber Shoes.”

On Wednesday, the Korean Cartoonists Association filed a petition with the ministry to investigate the contract between the original creators of “Black Rubber Shoes” and publishing house Hyungseol that is alleged to have led to the death of Lee Yoo-young, one of the original creators and cartoonists of the series.

Lee, who was found dead on March 11 by his family members, was having a difficult time due an ongoing legal dispute filed against him and his younger brother Woo-jin, also a cartoonist and co-creator of the hit cartoon.

In 2019, the two brothers were sued by the head of Hyungseol, who had taken over the copyright and business rights for "Black Rubber Shoes." The publishing house filed a lawsuit for 286 million won ($219,000) in damages against the two for allegedly using the characters without the company's consent. The brothers had signed a contract with the publishing house in 2007, and since then had been barred from creating secondary works based on the copyright of "Black Rubber Shoes." The original cartoonists were paid about 12 million won ($9,200) over a period of about 15 years.

The ministry said the special team will review whether or not the contract between the original creators of “Black Rubber Shoes” and the publishing house violates a new law that protects the rights of artists that went into effect in September last year.

The special investigation team will consist of the ministry’s officials gathered from departments that are responsible for copyrights, cartoons, publishing and artists’ rights and legal experts. If violations of the Act on Guaranteeing the Rights of Artists are discovered, the Artist Rights Protection Committee will review and decide on necessary measures such as corrective orders and requests for an investigation into the publisher. If cases of forced unfair contracts are found, relevant agencies such as the Fair Trade Commission will be notified.

“Black Rubber Shoes” was a comic the brothers created with story writer Lee Young-il, that ran from 1992 to 2006 in the biweekly magazine Comic Champ. It was developed into various secondary works, including an animated film and cartoon series in 1999, which was broadcast on KBS2.