Turkey: A TV Format’s Eligibility For Copyright Protection In Turkey

In order to better understand what a format is, one must focus on the creation process comprised of 4 stages namely: (1) generating a program idea, (2) creating a format paper, (3) adding production and business knowledge, and (4) broadcasting the episode1. In most cases, the producer comes up with the format idea whereas the broadcaster makes an investment with regard to the whole procedure.

On account of its complex nature, there is no global consensus as to whether a TV format should be protected within the scope of Intellectual Property Law or Unfair Competition Law. Whilst logos and similar signs part of a TV format may be subject to Trademark Law protection, such protection per se does not confer protection against format imitation. On the other hand, Copyright Law may not always be applicable as a consequence of idea/expression dichotomy. Therefore, protection is mostly afforded through the principles of unfair competition and/or breach of confidence2.

Having said that, the Turkish Court of Cassation has ruled3 in many occasions that even if a TV format falls out of the scope of Copyright Law, it is for the specialized courts (the Civil Court of Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights) at first instance to reach to such conclusion. Otherwise, the lawsuit may be dismissed due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

According to Turkish Law, in order for a TV format to be considered as work within the context of Copyright Law, it should fall within one of the categories (i.e. musical works, works of fine arts etc.) stipulated in the statutory law. In this direction, the Turkish Court of Cassation has ruled that TV formats may be considered within the category of cinematographic works4 as well as literary works5. More so, according to the Court of Cassation6, a format paper itself may well be considered a literary work and therefore, be protected within the scope of Copyright Law.

It should also be noted that the Court of Cassation explicitly states7 that copyright protection does not extend to methods and procedures. This means that an ordinary plan depicted in the format paper (i.e. the positioning of the contestants in a game show format) would not benefit from copyright protection.

The second condition is that the TV format should 'bear the characteristics of its author'. This notion does not necessarily require originality as it is adequate that the work in question reflects the individual style of the artist8. In resemblance to the Infopaq case9, it is sufficient that the work in question is original in the sense that it is 'the author's own intellectual creation'. In addition, the Court of Cassation has repeatedly ruled10 that the determination as to whether an artistic work is bearing the characteristics of its author is beyond a judge's legal knowledge. Pursuantly, the opinion of technical experts such as sector employees and/or academicians specialized in TV production shall also be taken into account.

In light of all the foregoing, we may say that Turkish Law may grant copyright protection to TV formats to the extent that the above-mentioned conditions are met. However, it should also be reminded that the Court of Cassation decisions are not of a principal nature as every dispute is to be settled on a case by case basis.


1. Neta-li E. Gottlieb, 'Free to Air? Legal Protection for TV Program Formats', The Intellectual Property Law Review Vol. 51, Forthcoming; University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 513.

2. Stefan Bechtold, The Fashion of TV Show Formats, 2013 Michigan State Law Review 451-512 (2013).

3. The Eleventh Civil Law Chamber of Turkish Court of Cassation Case No. 2005/11112 E. 2006/11933 K. under date of 20.11.2006.

4. The Eleventh Civil Law Chamber of Turkish Court of Cassation Case No. 2004/6612 E. 2005/3278 K. under date of 05.04.2005.

5. The Eleventh Civil Law Chamberof Turkish Court of Cassation Case No. 2011/12577 E. 2013/13823 K. under date of 28.06.2013.

6. The Eleventh Civil Law Chamber of Turkish Court of Cassation Case No. 2011/12280 2013/12047 K. under date of 10.06.2013.

7. See footnote 6.

8. Ünal Tekinalp, "Fikri Mülkiyet Hukuku", 5th ed. (Istanbul: Vedat Kitapcilik, 2012), 103-109.

9. Case C-5-08, Infopaq International v. Danske Dagblades Forening [2009] European Court Reports I-06569.

10. Supreme Court Assembly of Civil Chambers Case No. 2011/11-205 E. 2011/305 K. under date of 11.05.2011.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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