Does Turkish legislation provide protection for television program formats?

In today's world, television and television programs are an everyday part of life. As the television and media industry has grown and become global, the protection and ownership of television program "formats," i.e., the concepts for television programs, have become a more significant issue. The law, however, has not always kept up with changing developments and practices in media. The creators of television program formats in Turkey face the issue of protecting their work due to a gap in Turkish intellectual property law. Conflicting decisions of the Turkish Intellectual Property Courts highlight this problem.

Do television program formats enjoy copyright protection in Turkey?

Under Law No. 5846, On Intellectual and Artistic Works(“Intellectual Property Law”), works of science, literature, music, fine arts and cinema, as well as compilations, are subject to copyright protection. For an intellectual or artistic work to enjoy copyright protection, it must have a definite form, reflect the author's creativity, and fall within one or more of the categories of artistic works listed in the Intellectual Property Law. A television program format which has not advanced past the "idea stage" to the "format stage" has no legal protection under the Intellectual Property Law.

Unfortunately, in Turkey there is no established legal definition of a television program format. Nevertheless, television program formats do have certain characteristics which should be protectable. A television program format is not a program itself, but an instruction manual setting out how a program should be conducted.[1] It should cover all the primary and distinctive elements of the television program.[2] To protect this type of creative work, format creators generally specify all details, such as the role of the host and main characters, the studio setting, theme music, and phases and structure of the television program.

The question remains, however, under which category of artistic work should television program formats be classified? A commercial court in Izmir classified a written television program format as a "pre-scenario" protected under the Intellectual Property Law.[3] An intellectual property court in Istanbul, however, reached the opposite conclusion, finding that a television program format is not an artistic work under the Intellectual Property Law.[4] In the absence of settled court practice, a television program format with greater detail and specificity makes it more likely that it would be characterized as a pre-scenario entitled to protection under the Intellectual Property Law.

What are other possible grounds for protection?

Although television program formats do not enjoy copyright protection, the components of a television program format might be entitled to other legal protections. For instance, unfair competition rules could serve as a basis if the infringing acts resulted in unfair competition under the Turkish Commercial Code. Additionally, television program format creators might be able to use a non-disclosure agreement with the television broadcasters utilizing the format. The name of the television program format may also be protected by trademark law if it is registered as a trademark. The decoration and appearance of the studio or setting may also enjoy industrial design protection through industrial design registration in Turkey.

Conclusion

As copyright protection does not extend to methods and procedures, general or imprecise television program formats are generally not subject to copyright protection. However, there are tools available in Turkey to protect television program formats, producers and broadcasters. To avoid disputes arising out of a television program format, non-disclosure agreements and general contractual terms, as well as unfair competition and trademark and design laws should be considered to provide maximum protection.