IP in Movies: Architecture 101 (2012)

"Every movie is inseparable from the society that gave birth to it"

Architecture 101 / 건축학개론 (2012)

Lee Yong-Joo (이용주 감독님)

Contrary to The Social Network (David Fincher, 2010), intellectual property is not predominant in Architecture 101. However, this romantic movie contains an interesting scene revealing a sociological approach to consumption of counterfeit goods. It also gives the opportunity to highlight some features of legal aspects of counterfeiting in South Korea.

The three main characters are Seungmin (Lee Je-hoon), Seoyeon (Han Ga-in), and Jaewook (Yoo Yeon-seok).

The story focuses essentially on Seungmin. This young man, who comes from a low-income family, is a student in architecture. Seungmin has a crush on Seoyeon. She is also a college student but her major is music, and she holds a broadcaster position at the university radio. The reason whereby she is taking the Architecture 101 class is to get closer with Jaewook. Seoyeon describes him as “good-looking, tall, from a rich family, and an architecture student”. However, Seungmin and Seoyeon both live in Jeongneung (정릉동)—an area located north of the Han river in Seoul—and as they are spending time together, their feelings are growing for each other.

That being said, Seungmin has to overcome the rivalry with Jaewook. As shown in the following excerpt, the showdown is placed partly on the grounds of social status. Whereas Seungmin’s humble place is located in Jeongneung, Jaewook lives in Gangnam District (강남구), also known as the “Ritz” area as it is associated with wealth and luxury (yes, it is the same “Gangnam” as in the famous song “Gangnam Style” by PSY!).

“GEUSS?” / “This is so Fake”

The scene takes place in the 1990’s in Seoul. It shows Seungmin waiting for Seoyeon on the university campus. Seungmin’s face suddenly crumples when Jaewook arrives and offers to drive them home. Once in the car, Seungmin pretends to sleep. It is hard to read clearly in his mind and know whether he is angry against and/or intimidated by Jaewook. What immediately catches the attention is the t-shirt Seungmin wears and that reads “GEUSS?”. Jaewook points out to Seoyeon that Seungmin‘s t-shirt is a counterfeit product. He jumps on this opportunity to look down on Seungmin.

Later on, Seungmin suddenly gets out of the car when Jaewook is inviting Seoyeon to visit his apartment in the “Ritz area”. The underlying reason is the socioeconomic class to which Seungmin belongs. Once at home, Seungmin expressed rage and frustration by throwing the counterfeit t-shirt on the floor.

“That’s so fake” (Architecture 101, Lee Yong-ju, 2012) © Director: Lee Yong-ju • Producers: Shim Jae-myung Lee Eun • Screenplay: Lee Yong-ju,

A significant number of studies tend to apprehend the counterfeiting phenomenon from a sociological perspective. Two Korean authors (Booghee and Yoo Seung-Hee Lee) conducted one of them in 2003 [1]. They carried out a survey based on 376 South Korean female college students from 18 to 25 years old. Among other outcomes, the study shows that buyers of counterfeit goods:

  • knowingly purchase and consume counterfeits” [2];
  • had lower income […] and rated their current […] and future […] socio-economic class lower than genuine product buyers” [3];
  • showed lower physical-view vanity, lower self-image and materialism than genuine product buyers [4].

Interestingly, as Seungmin takes the fake t-shirt off and gives a shrug of resignation by throwing it on the floor, he reveals a non-branded t-shirt of a slightly similar color. Through this, it seems that the authors’ desire is to draw our attention on the fact that brands play a significant role in social positioning. Purchasing counterfeits is driven by “the prestige and status symbol that the trademarked brand suggests” [5]. The “GEUSS?” t-shirt initially had a symbolic value in Seungmin’s mind, which immediately melt when Jaewook laughed at him.

The difference between the willing consumer and the victim consumer of a counterfeit product is often highlighted [6]. In Seungmin’s case, nothing indicates that he could appear as a victim consumer. On the contrary, we learn at the end of this scene that Seungmin’s mother works as a seller on the street market. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that the scene takes place in the 1990s. At that time, counterfeiting in South Korea was an alarming phenomenon.

“Operation Pipeline” (1992-1995)

“Operation Pipeline” is known as the first major operation ever conducted against a counterfeiting criminal organization. The operation lasted for three years and ended with the dismantling of a wide criminal network organized by a Korean organization. In 2005, U.S. customs seized $27 million worth of merchandises bearing various trademarks including “Chanel”, “Louis Vuitton” and… “Guess?”. The New York Times reported that “Federal agents ha[d] tracked the goods to more than 50 manufacturers in Korea and have been working with Korean officials to stem the flow” [7]. An author observes that “Operation Pipeline” also (…) marks the emergence of governmental recognition of the presence of a new type of diversified criminal enterprise in the United States: Korean organized crime syndicates” [8].

Special 301: South Korea Under Pressure

South Korea has a long history regarding infringement of intellectual property rights. Early 1980’s, South Korea provided little or no protection for foreign intellectual property rights. South Korea accessed to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property in 1980 and the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works only in 1996. According to a U.S. International Trade Commission report published in 1984, South Korea was considered as a major source of counterfeit goods [9]. In 1986, investigations initiated by the United States under the auspices of Section 301 of the Trade Act 1974 had a significant and immediate impact on the Korean legislation [10].

Since 1989, the “Special 301” Report prepared by the Office of the United States Trade Representative reflects the outcome of a Congressionally-mandated annual review of the global state of intellectual property rights protection and enforcement [11]. The Trade Act 1974 (as amended) requires the United States Trade Representative (USTR) “to identify those foreign countries denying protection of intellectual property rights and market access to U. S. firms relying on such protection, and to determine which of those countries are ‘priority countries’ triggering an accelerated six month investigation” [12].

South Korea appeared on the initial Priority Watch List (PWL) in 1989, and since then has oscillated between the PWL and the Watch List (WL), as shown in Chart 1 entitled “20 years Under Pressure: South Korea Status Under the Special 301 from 1989 to 2009” (displayed below). Since the 1980’s, South Korean authorities have engaged in a long battle against infringement of intellectual property rights, at first to comply with the USTR requirements and nowadays, not only to comply with international standards but also to maintain a sufficient level of protection for South Korean-based intellectual property rights.

Chart 1: “20 years Under Pressure: South Korea Status Under the Special 301 from 1989 to 2009”
Source: Office of the United States Trade Representative (ustr.gov)

Reward System for Reporting Counterfeit Goods

Some informer systems have been established either by governmental authorities [14] or by industry associations [15] to invite consumers to report counterfeit goods or activities. Korean authorities go beyond. In return for their services in denouncing the counterfeiters, informers are rewarded. According to the Korean Intellectual Property Office, “[t]here have been 1,144 cases submitted during the 8 years since the system was first introduced in 2006, with a total of KRW 1.69 billion awarded” (1.350.000 EUR / 1.500.000 USD) [16]. In the meantime, campaigns are conducted under the auspices of the KIPO to enhance consumer awareness and perception of intellectual property rights [17].

IP Police Unit

In recent years, special IP crime police units have been created in some jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom Police Intellectual Property Unit [18]. South Korea also established a special police squad in September 2010 [19]. Since then, statistics available on the Korean Intellectual Property Office show that the number of individuals arrested is constantly growing (Chart 2), as well as the volume of counterfeit goods seized and confiscated (Chart 3) [20].

Chart 2: Individuals arrested since establishment of the special police squad in September 2010. Source: Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO.go.kr, last visit: October 28, 2015)
Chart 3: Volume of counterfeit goods seized since the establishment of the special police squad in September 2010. Source: Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO.go.kr, last visit: October 28, 2015)

Remaining Challenges

As in most jurisdictions, South Korean authorities now face the difficult challenge of cracking down online counterfeiting. In this respect, a team was established with the purpose of chasing websites offering counterfeit goods [21].



[1] Booghee Yoo and Seung-Hee Lee, “The Buyers of Counterfeit Products in South Korea”, 3 J. Int’l Bus. & L. 95 2004. However, one must notice that the scene takes place in the 1990s.

[2] Id., see p. 104.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Min Teah and Ian Phau, “The influence of personality factors on attitudes towards counterfeiting of luxury brands and purchase intention”, Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference, Olympic Park, Sydney: University of Western Sydney, Dec 1 2008.

[6] See Victor V. Cordell, Nittaya Wongtada, Robert L. Kieschnick, Jr., “Counterfeit Purchase Intentions: the Role of Lawfulness Attitudes and Product Traits as Determinants”, J. Busn. Res., 1996:35, pp. 41-53.

[7] Georges James, “Agents Raid Production Lines in Queens for Fake Labels”, The New York Times, September 28, 1995

[8] Sam Cocks, “The Hoods Who Move the Goods: An Examination of the Booming International Trade in Counterfeit Luxury Goods and an Assessment of the American Efforts to Curtail Its Proliferation”, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal Volume 17, Issue 2 2006 Article 5, Vol. XVII, Book 2.

[9] Along with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Singapore, and the Philippines. See U.S. International Trade Commission, The Effects of Foreign Products Counterfeiting on U.S. Industry, 1984 and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, House Committee on Energy and Commerce, 98th Congress, 2nd Session, Unfair Foreign Trade Practices: Stealing American Intellectual Property: Imitation is not Flattery.

[10] See Amy Choe, “Korea’s Road Towards Respecting Intellectual Property Rights”, Rutgers Computer & Tech. L. J. 341 1999 and Jonathan S. Jennings, “Trademark Counterfeiting: An Unpunished Crime”, 80 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 805 (1989-1990)].

[11] USTR, ustr.gov, Issue Areas / Intellectual Property, Special 301, last visit October 28, 2015.

[12] USTR, Special 301 Report 1989, May 25, 1989, p. 1, available on ustr.gov, last visit on October 28, 2015.

[13] Korean Intellectual Property Office, “Reward system for reporting counterfeit goods”, kipo.go.kr (last visit October 28, 2015).

[14] See, for instance, the U.S. informer system on Stopfakes.gov (last visit October 28, 2015).

[15] See, for instance, Spotafakephone.com created by the the Mobile Manufacturers Forum (last visit October 28, 2015).

[16] Korean Intellectual Property Office, “Reward system for reporting counterfeit goods”, kipo.go.kr (last visit: October 28, 2015).

[17] See Korean Intellectual Property Office, “Anticounterfeiting Activities of KIPO 2012”, p. 11 (last visit: 28 October 2015)

[18]United Kingdom Police Intellectual Property Unit, cityoflondon.police.uk (last visit, October 28, 2015).

[19] Helen Lee, “South Korea: Special Judicial Police Squad Launched for War on ‘Knockoffs'”, Law Library of Congress, October 15, 2010, loc.gov (last visit, October 28, 2015) and Korean Intellectual Property Office, “Crackdown on Counterfeit Goods”, kip.go.kr (last visit: October 28, 2015).

[20] Korean Intellectual Property Office, “Crackdown on Counterfeit Goods”, kip.go.kr (last visit: October 28, 2015).

[21] Ibid.