EOver-the-top (OTT) platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, have significantly transformed the entertainment industry, especially during the pandemic when traditional modes of entertainment like theatres and live concerts have been inaccessible. These platforms have been on the rise in recent years, offering content distributed over the Internet, as opposed to traditional television or satellite distributors.
OTT platforms have surpassed cable and satellite television in terms of functionality, and India has a range of OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and Voot. Unlike film and television content that is subject to regulation by entities like the CBFC and BCCC, OTT platforms can stream content without regulatory interference.
As a result, India's OTT audience currently comprises 424 million people, with 119 million active paid OTT subscriptions, according to The Ormax OTT Audience Sizing Report 2022. According to Statista, by 2027, the number of users in the OTT video segment is anticipated to reach 4.22 billion. The user penetration rate is predicted to increase from 45.7% in 2023 to 53.0% in 2027. Additionally, the average revenue per user (ARPU) in the OTT video segment is forecasted to be approximately US$90.14 in 2023.
Copyright and other controversies surrounding OTT
Streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime strike agreements with production houses to create content that is released under the banner of their respective platforms. There are two main types of intellectual property deals in the entertainment industry: licensing and co-production deals. In licensing deals, production houses license their intellectual property to broadcasters or advertising agencies to create the finished product.
Several Indian production houses have entered the OTT landscape, including Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies and the digital wing of Dharma Productions. However, concerns about copyright infringement have emerged with the rise of OTT media platforms. When copyright holders want their copyrighted content blocked or removed from various digital platforms, they must show that the platform is enabling widespread copyright infringement. It can be challenging to identify those who engage in online piracy since their identity and other personal information may be unknown.
In India, there has been a surge in the number of local and international OTT platforms launched to cater to the diverse tastes of the Indian audience, making it the fastest-growing OTT market globally. However, this has also led to controversy, with conflicts arising over issues like pornography, defamation, insulting religious sentiments, and others. Authorities have received numerous complaints regarding obscenity and disrespect for religion in web series. Lawsuits have been filed against various shows on OTT platforms for their plot, language, depiction of regions, and violations of religious beliefs. Although these regulations may limit filmmakers' creative freedom, they may be useful in limiting the types of content that children should be protected from. Screen addiction and excessive internet use can also result in psychological problems, particularly for children.
Concerns about cultural degradation, the use of inappropriate language, the portrayal of a particular region, or the overuse of sexual content have also been raised, resulting in numerous lawsuits against various shows on OTT platforms. While regulation may limit the creative freedom of filmmakers, it may also be useful in limiting the types of content that children should be safeguarded from. Parents find it challenging to prevent their children from viewing unsuitable content since teenagers are more drawn to what they see adults doing.
During a hearing on a petition challenging the arrest warrant issued against Ekta Kapoor for allegedly degrading soldiers in ALT Balaji's web series, the Supreme Court criticized the producer for displaying "objectionable content" that was corrupting the minds of the younger generation in the country. The court expressed concern about the impact of such content on society. In another instance, the Delhi High Court has ordered an FIR to be filed against the makers of the web series 'College Romance streaming on the OTT platform TVF. The court labelled the language used in the series as vulgar, obscene, and profane.
Censorship and self-regulation are areas where the government and OTT applications disagree. The government is concerned about obscenity and violations of religious beliefs, while many viewers prefer to see the original content without censorship.
Laws and Regulations
Currently, there is no specific act that governs OTT content in India. However, there are several laws and regulations that apply to content on these platforms.
According to the Copyright Act, infringing on OTT content directly is considered a violation of copyright, as defined under Section 2(m), which grants exclusive rights to the creator of the work. Most applicable content on OTT platforms is protected under copyright for 60 years under Sections 26, 27, and 29. Offering unauthorized content on an OTT platform could result in civil and criminal liability under Section 51 of the Act, which considers the unauthorized reproduction or storage of the work as infringement. The Act also provides for technological measures to protect copyright. Any certifications of a film by the CBFC do not apply to the content streaming live on OTT platforms.
India’s set of laws governing the content of OTT platforms, also includes the Indian Penal Code, of 1860, which makes it a punishable offence to sell or distribute any obscene literature or outrage religious sentiments with malice. The POSH Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses) safeguards children from sexual assault, harassment, and cyber pornography. The Indecent Representation of Women (Prevention) Act of 1986 prohibits the degrading depiction of women in print, film, television, and online media. The Information Technology Act, of 2000, punishes the publication or transmission of sexually explicit acts or children engaged in sexual acts in electronic form.
In addition, the IT Rules Guidelines for Intermediaries and the Digital Media Ethics Code, 2021, require OTT platforms to self-categorize their content into age-based groups and offer parental locks.
In conclusion, OTT platforms have revolutionized the entertainment industry, offering viewers access to diverse and on-demand content. However, it has also brought various controversies, such as copyright infringement, censorship, and the portrayal of sensitive topics. The government and OTT platforms have different views on regulation, which has resulted in the development of laws to regulate the content available on these platforms. While censorship may limit filmmakers' creative freedom, it may also be necessary to protect children from unsuitable content. It is crucial to strike a balance between artistic freedom and the need to safeguard viewers, particularly minors, while consuming content on these platforms. Overall, the Indian OTT market is set to continue growing, and it is essential to ensure that the content offered meets the necessary legal and ethical standards.
Today, much information about individuals is available in the different public spheres, which can be accessed for various purposes without needing the individual's consent. But if access to all the information is forbidden, this will also disrupt the authenticity of records.
Hence Right to forget has to function in harmony with the Right to Information and the Freedom of Expression, with the help of proper guidelines and fast tract redressal mechanisms to individuals against information in public.
- Regulations on OTT platforms – A perplexity. (2022, September 28). Khurana & Khurana Advocates and IP Attorneys. https://www.khuranaandkhurana.com/2022/09/28/regulations-on-ott-platforms-a-perplexity/
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- Analysis of OTT predominance and IPR violations. (2022, October 7). IPLF. https://www.ipandlegalfilings.com/analysis-of-ott-predominance-and-ipr-violations/
- The Law Reporters. (2021, November 6). Intellectual property rights in OTT platforms. https://thelawreporters.com/intellectual-property-rights-in-ott-platforms
- Delhi HC orders FIR against 'College romance' web series, says language 'Obscene and vulgar'. (n.d.). The Wire. https://thewire.in/law/delhi-hc-fir-college-romance-web-series-obscene-vulgar
- Supreme Court slams Ekta Kapoor for 'polluting' minds of young generation with her 'XXX' series. (2022, October 14). Business Today. https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/trends/story/supreme-court-slams-ekta-kapoor-for-polluting-minds-of-young-generation-with-her-xxx-series-349944-2022-10-14
- OTT video - Worldwide | Statista market forecast. (n.d.). Statista. https://www.statista.com/outlook/amo/media/tv-video/ott-video/worldwide#global-comparison