In November, speculations regarding SB19’s name and trademark have been making rounds on social media. The rumors started after SB19 members Pablo, Josh, Justin, Stell, and Ken removed the name ‘SB19’ from their Instagram bios. In the lead up to their recent performance at the Fusion Music Festival, a social media card featuring the boys had no mention of ‘SB19’ in both the collateral and caption, referring to the group as ‘MAHALIMA,’ which is a term of endearment mostly used by their fanbase.

Last month, the group announced a series of cancellations of their on-going PAGTATAG! World Tour, first starting with the Singapore concert, then the Bangkok leg, and most recently, their Dubai stop. These announcements were made on the 1Z Entertainment Twitter account rather than the official SB19 Twitter page, which was inactive since the release of the “FREEDOM” music video last November 8.

The speculations point towards a possible legal dispute with the group’s previous management, ShowBT Philippines, over the use and trademark of “SB19.” The quintet left ShowBT earlier this year and established their self-managed entertainment company 1Z Entertainment in June 2023. GMA News Entertainment reported that ShowBT owns both the trademark over the name “SB19” as well as the rights over the group’s songs. Additionally, according to the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines website, the name “SB19” is trademarked under ShowBT Philippines Corp. until January 3, 2031 and encompasses downloadable video recordings featuring music, downloadable digital music, and entertainment.

Just recently, 1Z Entertainment made an announcement saying that they had come to an “amicable agreement” with ShowBT Philippines, and used the name “SB19” for the first time since November 8.

In the Philippines, this suspected incident is the first-of-its-kind. SB19 are the pioneers in the P-Pop industry, an industry that with all its idol groups and fan culture, is a parallel to markets like K-Pop and J-Pop.

Contracts in the K-Pop industry

South Korean entertainment companies are known for their stringent policies surround the groups they debut and manage. The term “slave contracts” emerged in 2009 to describe multiple issues regarding the excessive, unfair control that companies impose on their groups. These legal disputes have included everything from automatic and mandatory extension of exclusive contracts for 15, 17, years, non-distribution of profits for a group’s members, abuse, and even a required quota for album releases within a certain period of time, and if a group doesn’t reach that quota, the contract would be extended until they finish the number of releases.

There have been two cases in recent times of K-pop groups facing trademark issues when they left their original entertainment companies and formed their own: GOT7 and Highlight, formerly known as BEAST (B2ST).

GOT7 left JYP Entertainment in January 2021. The group’s Jay B started his own company, 528Hz and had applied for the trademark rights to the GOT7 unit names, the rights of it to be shared by the group’s members. This would allow the group to retain their original name as well as full creative freedom as artists. In May of 2021, news became public that a full transfer of rights had been given to the individual members.

In contrast, K-Pop group BEAST left CUBE Entertainment in mid-2016 following the expiration of their contracts with the company. The group established their own company, Around Us Entertainment, after. However, the name BEAST was trademarked under Cube Entertainment for at least the next 10 years. This meant that they would not be allowed to release music, perform, and promote under the BEAST name. Following seemingly unsuccessful negotiations, the group debuted instead as Highlight.

An earlier case study is the case of Shinhwa, formed by SM Entertainment in 1998. The name Shinhwa belonged to three different media companies. While the group formed their own company, they had to change the name Shinhwa Company to Shinco Company while legal battles over the trademark were going on. However, Shinhwa and the parties settled out of court and the group was able to receive the trademark rights to their name in 2015. Now, they promote and perform under their original moniker.

Trademark infringement in the Philippines

In the Philippines, intellectual property law allows for the transfer of trademarks. Applications for transfer of trademark must be submitted to the Intellectual Property Office, where it will be recorded and assigned to the new owner of the trademark. However, infringement of trademarks — meaning the unauthorized use of a trademark name for any particular reason — may be subject to a criminal, civil, or administrative case filed by the original owner of the intellectual property (IP) owner.

If the IP owner files for criminal action, the court, after preliminary investigations by the prosecutor, will issue a warrant of arrest to the accused, with the option for bail. A person or group found guilty beyond reasonable doubt will be subject to two to five years imprisonment and will pay a fine ranging from P50,000 to P200,000.

If the IP owner files for civil action, they are claiming damages, which means that the IP owner can get the reasonable profit the IP owner would have made, or the profit that the infringer received by using the trademark.

In the case of the IP owner filing for administrative action, the penalties include an cease and desist order, administrative fines ranging from P5,000 to P150,000 and an additional fine of up to P1,000 for each day of the continuing violation, the cancellation or withholding of any permit, license, or registration granted or being secured by the infringer from the Intellectual Property Office, and other similar penalties.

However, even with 1Z Entertainment’s announcement, as of December 13, the name SB19 is still under ownership of ShowBT Philippines Corp., first registered by the company on January 3, 2021. The trademark classifications encompass goods and services like ticket selling, photography, videography, and the like.

The step forward

What does this mean for the future of the Filipino music  industry? So far, SB19 are the only group to have left their original company to establish a self-managed one. Other P-Pop groups are still under the managements that they debuted under, making it possible for them to still perform as their own entity.

However, in the future, if a group does decide to leave their original management, much legal work has to be done in order to smoothly transfer the rights to the new company. This can be remedied with an intellectual property lawyer who can guide the group and their own management through the process.

Specific contract details regarding P-pop groups more or less are not revealed to the public, so it’s difficult to determine if industry-standard contracts are as stringent as their K-pop counterparts. In South Korea, however, many idols have decided to go public with legal disputes, so whether or not we may see this same case in the near future is a possible reality.

As more solo artists decide to go independent from their managements, such as Janine Berdin leaving ABS-CBN Entertainment, the future for solo artists to own their own music and have full creative freedom over their art may become even more prominent in the future.