Legal Framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) Platforms and Apps in India: A Comprehensive Analysis

Introduction

The popularity of Over-the-Top (OTT) content in India is at its peak currently. These sources provide a huge amount of content which caters to the entertainment industry. But there is not much talk about the rules and regulations which are being followed by the content creators on such platform. This article is specifically throwing light on the legal aspects of OTT platforms and apps in India which includes the legal questions and the actions to be taken and the penalties around it.

Applicability of the Cinematograph Act:

The Cinematograph Act,1952 was enacted to primarily make regulations related to certification, exhibition and distribution of films which could be termed as traditional cinema, and hence this brings the question of its applicability in OTT platforms and apps. Under Section 4 of Cinematograph, Act films need to obtain a certificate from the Central Board of film Certification and then only they could showcase their films but this does not apply to OTT platforms as OTT platform do no come under the definition of “Cinema Hall”.

Considering this, there have been cases when regulations have been invoked, for instance in the case of Justice for Rights Foundation V. Union of India where the Delhi High Court held that OTT platforms should be on the lines of the Cinematograph Act and they should not violate the provision and the Central Government has the power to regulate digital media platforms in order to maintain decency, public order and morality. Also, according to the act there are certain penalties for non-compliance, Section 7B of the Act states that if the film on an OTT platform or app is presented without the necessary certificate, the penalty may extend to fine and/or imprisonment for a period of 3 years.

Applicability of Information Technology Rules:

While OTT platforms and apps might not directly fall under the Cinematograph Act, they are still governed by the Information Technology Rules, 2021. Under the Information Technology Act of 2000, these regulations were put in place by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) to control intermediaries, such as OTT platforms and applications, functioning in the digital sphere.

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OTT Platform

According to Rule 3(1)(b) of the Information Technology Rules- it is important to keep in mind that the users should be aware of the nature of the content and then make informed choices w.r.t the content they put out. OTT platforms and apps need to classify the content they offer into different age categories Universal, Adult and Parental Guidance etc. and then make it available to the viewer

Rule 3(2) of the Rules states that the OTT platforms and apps need to setup a grievance redressal mechanism to look after the complaints and make sure the content shown on these platforms are not in violation of the law in any manner. The platforms must register their grievance redressal mechanism with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB). They are also required to appoint a Chief Grievance Officer, who will be responsible for addressing user complaints and collaborating with law enforcement agencies.

Rule 3(4) of the Rules states that the OTT platforms and apps need to provide parental locks for content that is classified in the Adult Category. This is to ensure that children do not access such content under the restricted category. Rule 4(1) OTT platforms and apps requires the take down of content with 36 hours if they receive a legal notice and if they do not comply with order penalties could be imposed.

Legal Actions and Examples:

In recent years there have been many legal actions taken as regulatory intervention in India. In the case of Amazon Prime Video India Originals V. Union of India, the validity of Information Technology Rules was challenged stating that they impose restrictions which are arbitrary and unreasonable in nature and there is certain hope that the case when settled would bring about some clarity on this subject.

Penalties for Non-compliance

There are certain penalties which may be imposed on a person if non-compliance is done such as Section 7B which states that if a film is shown on an OTT platform or app without obtaining the necessary certificate from CBFC, a fine would be imposed as may the case may be or a term of imprisonment that can extent up to 3 years.

If situations such as noncompliance of grievance redressal mechanism, parental lock it could lead to penalties which may range to INR 5 Lakh to INR 10 crores depending on case-to-case basis

Conclusion

In conclusion, the framework on which OTT platform and apps in India runs are not very easy to understand but surely involves the intersection of Cinematograph Act and Information Technology Rules. While the Act may not directly be involved but the inclusion of Information Technology Rule imposes specific conditions which makes it some way inclusive to adhere the Cinematograph Act. Non – compliance with the regulatory requirements may attract penalties, including fines and imprisonment. It is crucial for OTT platforms and apps to be aware of the legal aspects and ensure compliance with the applicable laws to avoid legal challenges and penalties.

Author: Anisha Mishra, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to chhavi@khuranaandkhurana.com or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.

Citations / References

  1. Bhatia, A., & Rastogi, A. (2019). OTT Platforms and their Legal Compliance: An Analysis of the Indian Regulatory Framework. SSRN Electronic Journal. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3424734
  2. Kohli, S., & Saurav, S. (2020). OTT Platforms in India: Legal Challenges and the Way Forward. The Indian Journal of Law and Technology, 2(2), 99-116. doi:10.2139/ssrn.3767639
  3. Rawat, A., & Singh, R. (2020). Over-The-Top (OTT) Platforms in India: Legal and Regulatory Landscape. Indian Journal of Science and Technology, 13(26), 2655-2662. doi:10.17485/ijst/2020/v13i26/149232
  4. Sharma, S., & Chandra, P. (2020). Content Regulation and OTT Platforms in India: Legal Challenges and Policy Implications. Global Media Journal, 18(35), 1-19. doi:10.22059/gmj.2020.304239.1007520
  5. Singh, V., & Joshi, A. (2019). Legal Implications of Over-The-Top (OTT) Platforms in India. Legal Services India. Retrieved from http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-3581-legal-implications-of-over-the-top-ott-platforms-in-india.html

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