Monday, October 12, 2009
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Turkey is experiencing another debate over banned Web sites, but this time the matter is not pornography or insulting Turkey’s founder. The Turkish music industry is taking legal action against popular platforms for sharing music, and divided but persistent protests have raised their voices ever since.
Blocking Web sites for content that could harm society is old news in Turkey but recent bans on sites known as good sources for new music have stoked the flames of public discourse once again.
On one side, the Turkish association responsible for protecting the rights of the owners of the music says these sites are impeding artists’ ability to make a living. On the other side sits many amateur artists, and some established professionals, proclaiming the need for free access to music online in order to find new audiences.
Somewhere in between sit all those people who, like the prime minister himself, go about their daily life using proxy sites and software patches to easily bypass the bans.
‘Access to this site is blocked by judicial ruling.’ This declarative sentence is no stranger to Turkish Web users who have seen the government block more than 6,000 Web sites since the Internet was introduced in Turkey.
Some of the bans caused people to protest – YouTube, for instance. The most popular video sharing Web site on the Internet has been banned in Turkey since Jan. 17, 2008. Two courts ordered bans on YouTube in Turkey in response to videos that were deemed insulting to Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey. Since then, news made it to the press that YouTube is in communication with the Turkish government, but nothing has come of those meetings yet.
What is banned exactly?
Most recently, Myspace and Last.fm.tr, two of the most popular Web sites for music, were banned on Sept. 19.
Myspace is foremost a social networking site, but it is mainly a platform where amateur and professional musicians can upload songs and videos for streaming and downloading. Last.fm is a U.K.-based Internet radio and music community Web site founded in 2002. It claims more than 30 million active users based in more than 200 countries. Last.fm builds a detailed profile of each user’s musical taste by recording details of all the songs the user listens to; it then recommends and plays artists similar to the user’s favorites. Basically, last.fm is an online radio that ‘learns’ the type of music you like and then suggests similar material.
This latest ban was brought on by a complaint filed by the Turkish Phonographic Industry Society, or MÜYAP. Myspace Turkey and the London office of Last.fm did not return calls from the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, but Ahmet Asena, secretary-general of MÜYAP, answered questions from the Daily News about the matter.
The block on Myspace was lifted after just a few days even though nothing solid has come out of the negotiations yet, according to a MÜYAP official. The official said this was done as an act of good faith because Myspace Turkey was participating in the discussions, adding that the situation with Last.fm.tr is ongoing.
MÜYAP says it is their legal duty
Asena said these types of Web sites are obliged to obtain permission from the right owners and when they do not, they face legal action, which is what happened in their case. ‘When permission is not granted before operations, we have to open start prosecution due to our legal duties. If we do not, we would not be protecting the rights of our members,’ said Asena.
Although both of the mentioned Web sites have been popular in Turkey for a long time, MÜYAP acted only recently. Myspace has an established office in Turkey, but Last.fm does not. Asena said they have been in contact with Myspace Turkey and Last.fm since the sites became active in Turkey and that the choice to go to court was only a last resort.
Does the ban work?
But the bans do not count much in practice, as there are many ways around them. Patches, applications and tunnel sites are often used, though simply changing DNS settings is sufficient. When Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was asked what would be done about the YouTube ban some months ago, he surprised everybody when he said he accesses YouTube and everyone else should as well.
Asena said the efficiency of the ban is not the point, but that the goal is to protect the rights of the content owners. He said that even though accessing the sites is technically possible, it does not affect the existence of the legal decisions, adding that their demand was not to ban the whole site but only the related content and that although it is possible, the technology is not being employed because of its high cost.
The people rise against
The reactions against MÜYAP’s actions are various and persistent but also divided. There are several groups on Facebook protesting MÜYAP, with the largest exceeding 5,000 members. Also on Facebook, alternative rock singer Aylin Aslım complained about the lack of a common platform for a united opposition.
‘Blocking access to myspace.com is a serious injustice against independent musicians in Turkey,’ she said. ‘We do not want to be obliged to music televisions, record labels and their dirty politics to convey our music to anyone who wants it.’
Serdar Kuzuloğlu, columnist for daily Radikal, wrote recently about the criticisms Ahmet Ertürk, president of the Saving Deposits Insurance Fund, or TMSF, brought against MÜYAP last year regarding its transparency in terms of income and royalties. He questioned how much of the money MÜYAP collects is paid to the musicians and rights owners.
‘MÜYAP still has not revealed its records on the royalty rates it collects. They do not have the same ambition to reveal their own accounts as they do to reveal the losses in the industry and throw those numbers in our face. I wonder why,’ he wrote.
The Platform of Revolutionary Musicians and Red Photography held a demonstration late last month at Galatasaray Square right after the ban with a banner reading, ‘These musicians are blocked by judicial ruling.’ The group read a statement that rejects censorship on music and the Internet in the name of royalty rights, pointing out that thousands of amateur musicians benefit from the mentioned sites.
The group said the ban is a direct violation of their rights. ‘Arrangements made within the scope of intellectual property rights mean the work of artists and scientists becomes the property of the monopolies.’
The most organized acts of protest came from the Internet platform Sansüresansür.com (Censorship for censorship). They put a CD cover online that has a cassette and scissors over it next to the slogan, ‘Do not touch free music.’ The cover is meant to be printed, put inside an empty CD case and mailed to MÜYAP. Hundreds of people have downloaded the cover, according to Sühan Gürer from the platform.
Next, the contact details of the record companies affiliated with MÜYAP were posted on the site with a protest note, encouraging people to send e-mails to them. The third step was announcing e-mails of musicians who have a reputation for being ‘more democratic and libertarian’ and asking supporters of the protest campaign to write to those artists to give their support. Gürer said many important names among professional musicians are against the ban.