A spat over rights to broadcast Turkish football matches has led a local court to issue a blanket ban on the popular blogging platform Blogger, angering Turkish Internet users with what experts said was a disproportionate response.
The court in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır banned the website, a property of Google Inc., in response to a complaint by the satellite television provider Digiturk, which owns the broadcast rights to Turkish Super League games. Matches broadcast on Digiturk’s Lig TV channel had been illegally posted by several Blogger users on their blogs.
“This is a disproportionate response by the court and undoubtedly has a huge impact on all law-abiding citizens,” cyber-rights activist Yaman Akdeniz told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Wednesday, adding that millions of Turkish bloggers and blog readers would be affected by the Diyarbakır court decision.
“[I understand] there is a legitimate concern [regarding Digiturk’s commercial rights] but banning all these websites will not solve the issue. The decision opens the way to collateral damage,” said Akdeniz, who is also a law professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.
There are more than 600,000 Turkish bloggers actively using Blogger and some 18 million users from Turkey visited pages hosted by the site last month, Akdeniz said. The ban is expected to fully go into effect within a few days unless it is successfully challenged in court.
“If two people plan a criminal activity on the phone, should we ban the use of telephones all over the country?” asked Deniz Ergürel, the secretary-general of the Media Association.
“We believe this is a wrong approach to the issue and deprives millions of bloggers and Internet users from writing and sharing ideas online,” Ergürel, who is also a regular blogger, told the Daily News on Wednesday. He added that while the violation of Digiturk’s commercial rights should not be ignored, other solutions had to be found. “Even cursing, threatening or cheating over the phone is considered a crime, but this does not imply access to phones all over the country would be banned if there is a case against them,” he said.
In a press release Wednesday, Digiturk said illegal broadcasts of the league games had not stopped despite many warnings about the issue.
“Digiturk has spent $321 million in order to get the right to broadcast Spor Toto Super League matches. However, matches [whose broadcasting rights] belong to Digiturk and Lig TV are broadcasted by certain websites, disregarding all relevant laws,” the company said in its statement. “Thus, we applied to court to ban these websites, and the court decided to ban access to them, after it was proved that although all legal procedures were conducted, the violations were not stopped.”
Bloggers and their readers reacted angrily and quickly to the court decision, with nearly 9,000 users of the social-networking website Facebook joining a group called “Do not touch my blog” in less than two days after the decision was announced. Similar campaigns have also been created on other websites, such as Twitter.
“I can understand that a company tries to protect its rights when they are violated. But I cannot make sense of the banning of all blogs for content illegally used on only a few blogs,” regular blogger Gülşen Çetin, 24, told the Daily News on Wednesday. “The company that is involved says it couldn’t handle the issue with Google. Of course, everybody is responsible for their own claims, but this is not an excuse for them to cause such a big censorship event.”
In addition to harming innocent parties, the court decision is unlikely to solve the copyright problem, said another regular blogger.
“The people doing pirate broadcasting are skilled in this. Shutting down only one or a few [sites] will not solve the problem because they will find other ways to do it,” said Güldem Zeybek. “How about us, the innocent bloggers? Here, without doing anything, we face the charge of [being] criminals and have to [find ways to work around the ban]. No company’s copyrights should come before me expressing my thoughts.”
Cyber-rights activist Akdeniz drew a differentiation between regular websites and platforms for user-generated content such as Blogger, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, saying the courts must be sensitive to this distinction when they make decisions. “In my view, access to such platforms should not be banned, whatever the cause,” he said, adding that other technical solutions could be found to address issues of property and intellectual rights.
“The [impact of the decision] will be censorship, although it might not have been the court decision’s final purpose,” said Ergürel of the Media Association. He added that depriving millions of people of a way of communicating and sharing with each other could be considered a kind of censorship.
“We would not see such a phenomenon [like this court decision] in more developed democracies, such as in the EU countries,” Akdeniz said.
Uuuuufffff, yaaa! It doesn't make sense to impose a blanket ban, but I'm American and not a Turk. I grew up here, not there. Thus, what's incomprehensible-nutso for me may be the norm for others. That being said, news from Turkey is never boring!