Culture Ministry arrests operator of illegal web novel distribution site

The images show the arrest of the operator of an illegal web novel sharing site that was shut down. [MINISTRY OF CULTURE, SPORTS AND TOURSIM]

An illegal web novel distribution site was shut down and its operator has been arrested, the Culture Ministry's copyright infringement team said Tuesday.

The team, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Korea Copyright Protection Agency, conducted a joint investigation that led to the arrest of the operator of the website.

The Culture Ministry alleges the operator illegally shared more than 27,000 web novels in Korea and earned an estimated revnue of 340 million won ($260,000) from advertisement and other sources.

This year alone, the website saw over 21.7 million users, according to an analysis by data firm Similarweb.

Korea's web novel publishers, including companies like Kakao Entertainment and RIDI, estimate that the site caused loss of over 50 billion won in revenue.

Despite the challenges in tracking down the operator of a website with servers located overseas, the Culture Ministry and the DHS were able to identify where the operator was accessing the website.

Illegal content sharing sites often contain disclaimers like "Our servers are located overseas, so it does not violate [Korean] laws," or "Our site only provides download links," suggesting they are not in breach of Korea's copyright laws.

Korean nationals can still be subject to Korean criminal laws and face penalties even if the website is based overseas.

Not only the operators of such sites but also their users can be punished under copyright laws, the ministry said.

During the arrest, the operator was found running similar web novel sharing sites.

“We are currently in the process of searching and seizing evidence from the suspect and investigating further crimes,” the ministry said.

“As the web novel and webtoon industries are rapidly growing, we will continue to dedicate our efforts to investigations to prevent these industries from being hindered by the illegal distribution of copyrighted materials," it added.