SM Entertainment’s lawsuit history over ‘unfair contracts’

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We have been covering the story about EXO-M’s Kris filing a lawsuit against his company, SM Entertainment but this isn’t the first time an artist from SM has taken the company to court.

SM Entertainment is no doubt, a powerhouse label that have produced very big names in the K-pop music industry. They can boast about creating iconic groups/artists such as S.E.S, H.O.T, SHINHWA, BoA, TVXQ, Super Junior and Girls’ Generation but how well do they treat their artists?

By taking a look into the lawsuits that have been made against SM, we can gather some good insight into how the company looks after their singers.

1. EXO’s Kris vs. SM Entertainment (2014, ongoing)

It was confirmed that EXO-M’s leader Kris had filed a lawsuit against his company earlier this week to have his contract annulled.

In the lawsuit, Kris claimed that his label never considered or respected his opinion and health when scheduling for the group’s promotional activities in South Korea and China.

“The company has treated me like a machine part or as an object of control rather than presenting a vision as an entertainer,” the 24-year-old singer whose real name is Wu Yifan was quoted as saying.

The singer, who was recruited into the company at the age of 16 in 2007 said that his contract should be annulled because he wasn’t in equal position when negotiating the terms of his contract.

SM Entertainment has since responded to the lawsuit by telling the media that they were surprised by the filing.

“We are perplexed by the incident … we will do our best to keep EXO’s activities on track.” An S.M. Entertainment spokesperson told Yonhap.


EXO’s Kris filed a lawsuit against his label for treating him ‘unfairly’ earlier this week.

You can follow our coverage here.

His band members have also responded with Tao reassuring fans that the group will continue on without Kris.

“We won’t give up because one person left us, we will work harder and become stronger than before,” Tao posted on Weibo.

He went on to asking fans to ‘stay strong’ and ‘don’t cry’.

EXO-K’s leader Suho was quoted on OSEN news criticising that Kris acted irresponsibly.

“I cannot understand Kris’s actions. All the members are very shocked right now.” He was quoted saying.

Suho also said that it wasn’t too late for Kris to cancel the lawsuit and apologise to the group and SM.

The story continues.

2. JYJ vs. SM Entertainment (2009) 

In the morning of November 28 2012, SM Entertainment and JYJ came to a mutual agreement on their ‘unfair contract’ lawsuit which begun in 2009.

The lawsuit begun when JYJ, who was currently part of the five-membered group TVXQ, decided to take their label SM Entertainment to court regarding unfair contract agreements.

SM Entertainment announced in November 2012: “It has been decided that the three (Kim Jaejoong, Park Yoochun, Kim Junsu) do not want continue to be active with TVXQ, and therefore we made a decision that there is no need for us to manage the three.

“So, we have concluded that we will not be further involved with them,”

The statement continued, “We thought this would be the best decision, so that the remaining members U-Know Yunho and Max Changmin who are working very hard, will no longer have any issues holding them back.”

JYJ's lawsuit against SM has brought 'slave contracts' into light.

JYJ’s lawsuit against SM has brought ‘slave contracts’ into light.

JYJ said that their 13-year-long contract was “no different from a binding lifelong contract”. They also said that profits were not distributed fairly by the agency.

Jaejong, Yoochun and Junsu who have since released two #1 albums in Korea, said that their former management didn’t acknowledge their health and were always working them excessively on four hours sleep each night.

“(They) have had health problems and finally reached their physical limits, but SM Entertainment continued to send them abroad and plan excessive activities,”

“Thus, the three members have started to hope they will be able to continue their careers as they wish, instead of being used as tools for the agency’s profits.”

3. Han Geng vs. SM Entertainment (2009)

SM was hit with another lawsuit in 2009 when former Super Junior member Han Geng filed a lawsuit against the company.

His lawyers alleged that his 13-year long contract with SME was unlawful and like JYJ/TVXQ, the profits made from Super Junior’s successful albums and singles were not fairly distributed among the members.

A statement released by Han Geng’s team at the time said that the singer was forced to do things against his own will, fined when he disobeyed the company, was refused sick days off when he developed gastritis and kidney problems.

Han Geng’s manager also added that the company discriminated the singer. He named an example when the company turned down Han Geng’s opportunity to appear in Ariel Lin’s music video and instead permitted two other Super Junior members to appear instead.

However, the court ruled in favour of Han in December 2010 but SM Entertainment submitted an appeal to reverse the decision.

Fast forward to September 2011, Han Geng then retracted the lawsuit and then announced that he had reached a mutual agreement with his former-label. Han was released by SME and now has a successful solo career in China.

Han Geng is now successful in China.

Han Geng is now successful in China.

Ironic? SM: “We will lead in protecting celebrity rights”

Since Han Geng and JYJ’s lawsuit against the company, SM has been under much pressure to improve the terms of their contract.

In 2010, SM announced that it would be making progressive changes into improving celebrity rights and to make the entertainment industry standard better.

SM representatives and government auditor Jo Moonhwan promised to promote continuous discussions about establishing improvements in contract terms.

Kim Youngmin, who is currently the CEO of SM Entertainment said that the company’s promise to improve standards is a ‘win-win situation’ for celebrities and their management.

“We’ll do our best to improve the culture industry, which causes Hanryu’s expansion, and add national value to it.” He said.

Are there more?

This then raises the question: how many more artists under SM Entertainment are being treated this way if EXO’s Kris alleges that there is unfair treatment from the company? Why is there not more government intervention to protect celebrities from these ‘slave contracts’?

K-pop celebrities deserve to feel like they’re being treated properly by their label. Just like how we expect to have a good working environment we go to work from our boss, celebrities expect their record label and management to have standards when it comes to managing them.

Kris Wu is the latest artist to take SM to court over 'unfair' contract terms.

Kris Wu is the latest artist to take SM to court over ‘unfair’ contract terms.

What is common with these three lawsuits is that they all mention SM not distributing money fairly. So, are some members favourited more than others?

What do you think about the whole Kris vs. SM Entertainment lawsuit? How do you think it will play out in the next couple of months. Tell us below.


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