Despite legal uncertainties, court decisions in various jurisdictions have grasped with the issues of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), digital tokens that cannot be exchanged or replaced and may represent a tangible object in the real world. For the first time, a court in Turkey rendered a preliminary injunction (PI) regarding NFTs on June 21, 2022.
In the dispute filed before the Istanbul Third Civil Intellectual Property Court (court), heirs of Cem Karaca, who was an artist, songwriter, and composer, claimed that a portrait of Cem Karaca was exploited unlawfully both in physical and in NFT form, among other things, and that such uses infringed the copyright in the portrait as per the Law on Intellectual and Artistic Works and of the personality of the late artist according to the Turkish Civil Code. They asked that the court determine the evidence regarding alleged unauthorized use and requested a PI to block access to the websites where the infringing content was displayed and to stop the online sale of NFTs of the portrait on the OpenSea platform.
The court accepted the request for the PI, ordering the blocking of access to those platforms where such portrait is exploited in an unauthorized manner, and prohibited the sale of the “Cem Karaca” portrait in NFT format on the platform. The Access Providers Union blocked access to the relevant infringing websites in Turkey to ensure the court order was executed.
Despite the defendants’ objections, the court did not change its first decision and ruled that the PI should continue. The trial on the merits of the dispute is still pending before the court.
As the first-ever court judgment in Turkey related to NFTs and its assessment that preliminary injunctions can apply to NFTs, this is a landmark decision. The court neither elaborated on the technical features of NFTs nor commented on how they should be defined legally. Still, it considered the legal regulations while identifying the infringing use and concluded that NFTs are a “format” for infringement purposes and indicated that no legal obstacle prevented enforcing IP rights against such unauthorized uses, even in an environment lacking legal certainty.
First published by INTA Bulletin in 09.11.2022.