The live video-streaming app Periscope is to be blocked on a regular basis in Turkey after a court ruling yesterday, which is expected to pave the way for censorship of other online platforms too.
The ruling was handed down by the Istanbul Intellectual and Industrial Property Rights Court, which was hearing a case bought by Turkish satellite broadcaster Digiturk.
Digiturk, which is owned by Qatar-based beIN Media Group, holds the exclusive broadcast rights to all football matches in the Turkish Super League. It appears that they have gone to court over concerns that fans might be using apps like Periscope to provide free online streams of games.
Censorship to protect broadcast rights
In court, it was claimed that fans in Turkey, whether attending live games or watching on TV had home, had been using Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, to film and stream games on the social media site. No significant evidence was provided to prove this practice was detrimental to Digiturk subscriber numbers or profits.
Nevertheless, the court agreed with Digiturk and have now ruled that Periscope should be blocked across the entire country whenever a Digiturk broadcast of a Turkish Super League match is taking place.
It has since been confirmed that everything is in place for the block to be implemented from the start of the new season on August 10th, when the first game being broadcast will be Ankaragücü v Galatasaray. Periscope will be unavailable for the duration of the broadcast.
Given that Periscope is far from the only site which offers this capability, it seems certain that more sites will be blocked using this case as a precedent.
How this ruling sets a worrying precedent
This is far from the first example of online censorship seen in Turkey, where the regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been cracking down hard on individual freedoms both online and in real life, after a failed coup against his regime in 2016.
However, according to Turkey Blocks, a website which monitors online censorship in Turkey, this is the first time that the country has approved scheduled censorship and shutdown of websites.
They noted that, while many of the online controls had been put in place to help Erdoğan retain his grip on power, in this instance, it seems that online freedoms are to be compromised merely to protect the broadcast rights of a Qatari media group.
It is not the first time that Periscope has fallen foul of authorities either. It was widely criticized by Erdoğan supporters during the nationwide protests against his regime in 2013 when it enabled live streams of protests that were heavily censored on regular Turkish media.
It was also informed in June of this year that it would be blocked in Turkey altogether unless it changed its name, after a hugely controversial trademark case in the country which was brought by Turkish advertising company Periscope İletişim.
The İstanbul 2nd Court of Intellectual Property Rights ruled that both the www.periscope.tv and @Periscopeco Twitter accounts would be blocked unless the name was changed, however, no such action has taken place to date.
How to get around the Periscope block
Under the latest court ruling, the four domains which will be blocked during the broadcast of Turkish Super League matches will be pscp.tv, proxsee.pscp.tv, prod-assets.pscp.tv, and prod-video-eu-central-1.pscp.tv.
It is not clear whether Periscope will look to add new domains to get around this block or indeed challenge the court ruling, but there is no doubt that the Turkish people will vigorously contest this unprecedented case of internet censorship.
Some may turn to other platforms, but many more will simply choose to bypass the block by turning to a VPN. Despite Turkish claims to want to block VPNs, all the major providers remain available with the likes of ExpressVPN and IPVanish readily available and increasingly popular across the country.
By using a VPN connected to a server outside Turkey, it is easy to bypass censorship in Turkey and access all sites which are blocked, including Periscope. Read our article on the Best VPN for Turkey to learn more.
In cases like this, netizens tend to fight back, so it seems quite conceivable that there will be more free streams of the Ankaragücü v Galatasaray.
We will see this weekend how they react to the ban, but whatever happens, this case sets another worrying precedent for online freedom in an increasingly authoritarian Turkey.