“Çiçeksepeti” Judgement: are online platforms really not liable?

Doutrina, Jurisprudência

In the “Çiçeksepeti” judgement of 15 November 2021, the 3rd Civil Chamber of the Turkish Court of Cassation assessed whether an online marketplace is liable for the defective goods and services supplied or sold by the third party. The Court of Cassation issued a controversial judgement that is subject to criticism.

Çiçeksepeti, is an online marketplace in Turkey that provides delivery services of flowers, gifts and gourmet products. It is an online platform where consumers can order flowers, gourmet products, fruit/ chocolate baskets and souvenirs to be delivered in all cities of Turkey. 

The subject of the lawsuit is mainly the refund that was requested by the consumer from Çiçeksepeti, after the defective goods were delivered. A cigarette was found in the truffle package that the consumer bought through the website of Çiçeksepeti. The 5th Bakırköy Consumer Arbitration Committee accepted the case and made a judgement in favour of the consumer. Thereupon, Çiçeksepeti requested the annulment of the decision due to the absence of hostility, claiming that Çiçeksepeti is an online marketplace and not a seller/supplier.

The 5th Bakırköy Consumer Court, which examined the request, stated that the consumer was shopping on the platform with the impression that Çiçeksepeti was the owner of the goods. The court stated that Çiçeksepeti received a commission from the supplier company and therefore was liable for the services which were provided. It argued that it was also possible for Çiçeksepeti to recourse to the company that supplied the goods after returning the payment to the consumer. Thus, the court denied the request.

Upon this decision, Çiçeksepeti requested an annulment for the benefit of the law from the Turkish Ministry of Justice. In the request, once again it has been claimed that Çiçeksepeti is not a seller or supplier. It is argued that Çiçeksepeti is only acting as an intermediary service provider and that it cannot be held liable for defective goods in accordance with the safe harbour exemption article 9 of the Law No. 6563 on the Regulation of Electronic Commerce (“E-Commerce Law”).

The 3rd Civil Chamber of the Court of Cassation reversed the judgement of the Bakırköy 5th Consumer Court on the grounds that Çiçeksepeti is an online intermediary service provider that provides e-commerce opportunities over the internet and cannot be qualified as a seller on the distance contract concluded by the customer/consumer. Thus, the High Court annulled the judgement.

According to the criticism of Professors Erdem BÜYÜKSAĞİŞ and Defne KAHVECİ, the High Court did not properly apply the relevant legal principles, ignored the state of the technology, and finally reached an outcome that is not in line with the vision and objectives of the lawmaker. The criticisms, which I agree with, are mainly grouped under two headings by the authors. (See: Büyüksağiş, Kahveci /A critical analysis of “Çiçeksepeti” judgement/ Journal of the Court of Cassation (Yargıtay Dergisi) volume: 48, 2/2022, pp. 305-320)

1- “Safe Harbour” Exemption 

Pursuant to Article 9 of the Turkish E-Commerce Law, “Internet service providers neither have the duty to monitor information they transmit or store, nor are they liable for mere conduit or caching. Unless they have knowledge of the infringement or do not take down the infringing content expeditiously after having obtained knowledge, Internet service providers cannot be held liable.” 

Intermediary service providers will not be liable under any circumstances for the content offered and intermediary service providers can only be held liable if they are aware of the violation or do not promptly remove the infringing content after becoming aware of it. With this regulation, which aims to relieve intermediary service providers from liability and are called “safe harbours”, online service providers are exempted from liability in terms of copyright or intellectual property violations, as well as all kinds of torts that occur online. However, the scope of this exemption regime is limited. Recital 42 of the EU E-Commerce Directive nevertheless reduces the scope of application of these safe harbour provisions to only mere technical, automatic and passive platform activities.  

Regarding the E-Commerce Directive, it is necessary to determine the situations in which intermediary service providers can be described as active and passive. The main issue that should be considered when distinguishing an intermediary service provider as active or passive is the role it plays during the conclusion and performance of the contract. According to one of possible interpretations of the Directive, for an online platform to be active it needs to provide the essential services required by the selling process. Passive online platforms let a third-party supplier pack and ship its product directly to the consumer, while active platforms provide assistance to consumers while picking from the seller, and packing and shipping the product to the consumer. 

The Court of Justice of the European Union also recognizes that there is no right to benefit from the “safe harbour” exemption where online platforms play an active role in such a way that they can gain control over the data of buyers and suppliers and affect their behaviour.

In the “Çiçeksepeti” judgement of the Court of Cassation, no distinction was made between active and passive intermediaries. The effect of online marketplaces and digitalization on commercial activities was not fully understood at the time the E-Commerce Law was prepared, therefore it envisaged a general “safe harbour” exemption regime covering all brokerage activities.

However, this should not mean that a law that has not yet been revised in a way that can keep up with the technological development in distance selling should be applied today as it was at that time. By interpreting the provision of article 9 of the E-Commerce Law according to the purpose of article 14 of the EU E-Commerce Directive, it can only be applied to passive online marketplaces. 

When the “Çiçeksepeti” judgement is examined, it will not be difficult to reach the conclusion that Çiçeksepeti is engaged in an active activity. Çiçeksepeti makes agreements with many shipping companies to provide discounts to sellers, and in some cases, undertakes the shipping costs entirely. Suppliers are only allowed to communicate with the buyer/ consumer through Çiçeksepeti, and the buyer/consumer is charged by Çiçeksepeti. Materials such as card notes and cargo bags have the Çiçeksepeti logo/title on them, which can be obtained through a separate application belonging to Çiçeksepeti, and can be used for packaging and shipping of the goods.

If these opportunities provided to suppliers when they use the Çiçeksepeti platform are evaluated as a whole, it is clear that Çiçeksepeti plays an active role in the relationship between the consumer and the producer/supplier and it is not passive. Therefore it should fall outside the scope of the “safe harbour” regulation in Article 9 of the E-Commerce Law.

2- Liability as Seller of Online Marketplaces

Signing and concluding the contracts with both suppliers and customers, the online marketplace may combine elements of agency, brokerage, commission, consignment, and shipment. This leads to the question of whether an online marketplace may be held liable, along with the supplier, for the damage caused by defective goods sold on the platform. The answer depends on whether the online marketplace can be classified as a seller in its relationship to a particular customer.

According to the article 3, paragraph 1-i of the Turkish Consumer Protection Law No. 6502, “Natural or legal persons, including public legal entities, who offer goods to the consumer for commercial or professional purposes or act on behalf of the supplier” are considered sellers. Not only natural or legal persons offering goods to the consumer, but also those acting on behalf of these persons or giving the impression that it is the seller are defined as sellers.

Although the definition of the seller in the Turkish Consumer Law is included in the Çiçeksepeti judgement, Çiçeksepeti is not considered within its scope. The Court of Cassation should also have considered whether the platform was acting on behalf of or giving the impression that it is a seller.

Moreover, it can be easily seen that Çiçeksepeti played a more active role in the marketing process. Even if Çiçeksepeti has no direct control over third-party suppliers, Çiçeksepeti gives the impression that it is the owner of the goods. The customers cannot directly contact the seller/ suppliers, and sellers ship their products with the cards written “Çiçeksepeti” and not with their own company name. Moreover, consumers make the payment directly to Çiçeksepeti and it does not let the suppliers ship the products directly to the consumers. It has made agreements with shipping companies for this purpose. These can be accepted as Çiçeksepeti is giving the impression that it is the seller. However, the High Court did not examine this issue in its judgement.

Contratos à distância no direito turco

Doutrina

A Lei de Proteção do Consumidor n.º 6502 (a seguir TCPL), que é a lei básica sobre o direito do consumo na Turquia, foi publicada no Jornal Oficial n.º 28835, datado de 28 de novembro de 2013. A Lei dos Contratos à Distância (a seguir LCA) entrou em vigor com o Jornal Oficial n.º 29188, datado de 27 de novembro de 2014.

Os aspetos gerais dos contratos à distância são regulados no artigo 48 da TCPL. Nos termos do artigo 48/1 do TCPL e do artigo 4/1(e) da LCA, os contratos à distância são definidos como “os contratos celebrados mediante a utilização de ferramentas de comunicação à distância entre as partes até ao momento da celebração do contrato, inclusive, no âmbito de um sistema criado para a comercialização remota de bens ou serviços, sem a presença física simultânea do vendedor ou fornecedor e do consumidor”.

Os contratos que são celebrados através da internet, via telefone ou fax constituem exemplos de contratos à distância. Em proporção direta com a crescente utilização da Internet, o fluxo de compras também começou a intensificar-se no ambiente virtual. Os consumidores que fazem compras na Internet, consciente ou inconscientemente, celebram um contrato à distância e estão sujeitos às normas da lei relativa aos contratos à distância. Os contratos celebrados através de um website são geralmente celebrados sob a forma de contratos-tipo que não permitem ao consumidor negociar o seu clausulado e contêm condições gerais preparadas pelo vendedor/fornecedor. Por conseguinte, o consumidor não interfere com o conteúdo do contrato. Por isso, é extremamente importante informar os consumidores sobre os “termos e condições” aplicáveis antes da celebração do contrato.

Em termos de contratos à distância, existem dois métodos de proteção do consumidor na legislação turca, em linha com a legislação da UE: obrigação de informar o consumidor e  direito de arrependimento.

1.Obrigação de informar o consumidor

No Direito do Consumo turco, o vendedor/fornecedor deve informar o consumidor sobre a natureza dos bens e serviços, a identidade do vendedor/fornecedor, o preço total do bem ou serviço, incluindo todos os impostos, os métodos de pagamento, entrega e execução, a duração do contrato, os termos da denúncia dos contratos celebrados por tempo indeterminado, e a eventual prorrogação automática do contratos.

  • Informação sobre a natureza dos bens e serviços

A lei turca estabelece que o consumidor deve ser informado sobre as características essenciais dos bens e serviços nos contratos à distância. A informação deve ser feita através do mesmo instrumento de comunicação que é utilizado para a comercialização dos bens ou serviços. Esta obrigação está incluída  no artigo 5/a da LCA.

  • Informação sobre a identidade do vendedor/fornecedor

Outra obrigação de informação regulada no artigo 5º da LCA impõe a indicação do nome ou título do vendedor ou fornecedor, o endereço completo, o número de telefone e informações de contacto. Além disso, se uma pessoa agir em nome ou por conta do vendedor ou fornecedor, esta obrigação inclui também a identidade e o endereço dessa pessoa.

  •  Informar o consumidor sobre as taxas e despesas em que vai ou pode vir a incorrer no futuro

Na lei turca, o vendedor/fornecedor deve cumprir a sua obrigação de informar o consumidor sobre os custos adicionais e que, se o consumidor exercer o seu direito de arrependimento, os custos de devolução serão seus. Caso contrário, não poderá reclamar esses custos ao consumidor. Esta norma corresponde a norma pararela prevista no direito europeu.

  • Informação sobre que direitos o consumidor tem e como exercer esses direitos

De acordo com a lei turca, o vendedor não é obrigado a informar o consumidor sobre os seus direitos no caso de desconformidade dos bens.

De acordo com as diretivas europeias, o consumidor também deve ser informado sobre a disponibilidade do apoio ao cliente e as oportunidades de garantia comercial oferecidas pela empresa, dependendo da situação. Deve igualmente ser informado sobre a duração do contrato, os termos da denúncia do contrato em contratos celebrados por tempo indeterminado ou que se prorroguem automaticamente. Estas obrigações de informação não estão incluídas na lei turca.

Prevê-se apenas, de acordo com o artigo 5/I (k) da LCA, que os consumidores devem ser informados de que podem processar as suas queixas e requerer outros pedidos relativos ao litígio junto do Tribunal do Consumidor turco ou do Centro de Arbitragem do Consumidor turco.

Outra obrigação do vendedor/fornecedor passa por assegurar que o consumidor confirma ter obtido as informações preliminares em todos os contratos à distância, independentemente do ambiente em que são celebrados (artigo 7º da LCA). A sanção para a violação desta obrigação é regulada na lei turca como “considerando o contrato como não celebrado”.

2. Direito de arrependimento

O direito de arrependimento, que é outra forma de proteger os consumidores, é regulado em pormenor na lei turca. Embora o vendedor não seja obrigado a informar o consumidor sobre que direitos tem e como exercê-los, prevê-se a obrigação de informar especificamente sobre o direito de arrependimento.

O direito de arrependimento é um direito inovador que permite ao consumidor livrar-se das suas obrigações contratuais sem apresentar qualquer justificação. O consumidor pode exercer o direito de arrependimento no prazo de 14 dias.

No entanto, o consumidor não tem o direito de arrependimento nos contratos relativos aos serviços executados instantaneamente em ambiente eletrónico ou aos bens intangíveis entregues imediatamente ao consumidor. Nos contratos de prestação de outros serviços, se a execução do serviço for iniciada com a aprovação do consumidor, este não pode exercer o direito de arrependimento.

Ao contrário do que sucede na União Europeia, em que se vale a liberdade de forma, na lei turca, a declaração relativa ao exercício do direito deve ser apresentada por escrito ou com armazenamento permanente de dados. O ónus da prova de que o direito de arrependimento foi exercido é atribuído ao consumidor.

Em suma, o direito turco tem grandes semelhanças com o direito do consumidor da União Europeia e transpõe as diretivas da União Europeia para o direito interno. No entanto, algumas das obrigações de informação prévia não foram transpostas para o direito interno.

Turkish consumer law– Legal persons as consumers

Doutrina

The Directive 2011/83/EU on Consumer Rights (Hereinafter the directive) came into force in 2011 after a long drafting period. The Act on Consumer Protection no. 6502 (Hereinafter, TCPA) that came into force in Turkey on 07.11.2013 resembles the Directive on Consumer Rights. The TCPA changed some of the main points of consumer law in Turkey. However, when the Turkish Grand National Assembly was harmonizing the new act with the Directive, even though to the principle of full compliance, they expanded the definition of “consumer”. This blog post summarizes the main difference in this definition and some of its consequences on daily life.

According to the definition provided for in article 2 of the Directive, a consumer is “…any natural person who, in contracts covered by this Directive, is acting for purposes which are outside his trade, business, craft or profession”. However, in article 3(k) of TCPA natural or legal persons who act for purposes outside his/her trade, business, craft, or profession are qualified as consumers.[1] For consumers who are natural persons, Turkish consumer law is in line with EU law. However, the striking difference in the definition of “consumer” between the EU consumer law and Turkish consumer law is that while only natural persons are considered as consumers in EU law, legal persons can also be consumers in Turkish consumer law under some circumstances.

This leads to legal persons who do not aim for commercial and business transactions to benefit from consumer rights. In other words, each legal person who obtains goods and services for his/her special/private needs and purposes without seeking profit and commercial purposes is considered a consumer in Turkish law.

In cases where it is difficult for the seller/supplier to determine whether the other party of the contract is a consumer or not, the Turkish Court of Cassation states the nature of the contract should be determined by looking at the conditions at the time of the conclusion of the contract. It also states that the “business associations” (i.e. general partnership, limited partnership, company, cooperatives, etc.) can also be considered as consumers. However, the business association should clearly state to the other party that it is using the good or service for consumption purposes at the time the contract is concluded, or this situation should be clearly understandable by the counterparty.

What happens if a legal person uses the goods or services with a mixed purpose? The Turkish Court of Cassation states that if the goods and services are used for both private and commercial purposes by the legal person, they can not benefit from consumer rights, moreover, they are not considered as consumers. As a matter of fact, the Court of Cassation has stated in one of its decisions[2] that a commercial partnership that purchased a vehicle in its own name and used this vehicle in the business and sometimes in a private manner can not be qualified as a consumer. The private purpose shall be pure without any business purpose and shall be used for non-commercial purposes.

In the light of these explanations, Turkish law departs from the scope of application of the Directive in terms of legal persons. Therefore, although the principle of full compliance is violated at this point, there is a deviation in Turkish consumer law from EU law in favor of the consumer. I consider it as a positive step in consumer law.


[1] See Turkish Consumer Protection Act no. 6502 https://www.mevzuat.gov.tr/MevzuatMetin/1.5.6502.pdf .

[2] The Turkish Court of Cassation, 13.HD, 1815 E., 5112 K.