By - King Stubb & Kasiva on May 22, 2023
Over-the-top (OTT) media platforms have witnessed a remarkable surge in popularity, surpassing traditional modes of entertainment. These platforms allow individuals to conveniently subscribe and access a wide range of shows, movies, and videos from the comfort of their homes, at their preferred time and pace. Prominent online streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hotstar have gained significant traction in the past five years. Renowned for their vast libraries of diverse and unconventional content, these platforms offer unique stories and experiences at affordable membership prices. The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown of cinemas further accelerated the growth of OTT services, resulting in a notable 30% increase in subscriber numbers.
OTT platforms have emerged as a convenient and popular trend among the masses. However, these platforms face various legal challenges, including:
Addressing these legal challenges is crucial for OTT platforms to ensure a smooth and sustainable operation while safeguarding intellectual property rights and promoting creative freedom.
OTT platforms have faced numerous lawsuits and criminal proceedings regarding defamation, hurting religious sentiments, and the use of vulgar language in their content.
Defamation, as defined in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, occurs when someone makes or publishes false statements, accusations, or imputations that harm the reputation of another person. Determining what qualifies as obscene or defamatory can be challenging due to the wide scope of defamation laws.
In a highly sentimental and culturally rooted country like India, it becomes difficult to gauge what may hurt people's feelings. For example, a man sought a stay on the OTT distribution of the film "Why I Killed Gandhi" from the Supreme Court, claiming that the movie glorified Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, and tarnished his reputation. The petitioner's plea included a demand for OTT platform regulation, in addition to a delay in the film's release.
Profanity refers to the socially inappropriate use of language, often known as cursing, swearing, or using vulgar expressions. Language that is considered crude, vulgar, or culturally inappropriate falls under the category of profanity.
In a case involving the online television program "College Romance," a trial court ordered the Delhi Police to file a complaint against the production company TVF, the director, and an actor due to the use of language that was deemed offensive. The judge handling the appeal remarked that the language used in the show was so explicit that she had to use headphones in her chamber to avoid causing shock or alarm to others nearby. Despite reflecting certain aspects of society, such web series clash with the prevalent cultural norms of polite language that are still widely accepted in the country.
Creative interpretations can sometimes offend individuals in a country where religion holds great significance. Content creation should take into account the emotions and beliefs of the general public.
In the case of the online series "Tandav" on Amazon Prime, police were called and an FIR was filed, accusing the creators and the head of Amazon Prime of hurting religious sentiments. It was claimed that the series portrayed Hindu gods and goddesses in a negative light, with the alleged intention of stirring up racial tensions. The court ruled that the religious sentiments of the majority community were indeed hurt due to the derogatory portrayal of their religious values.
Ensuring a balance between creative expression and cultural sensitivity is crucial for OTT platforms to avoid legal pitfalls and maintain a positive reception from their audiences.
Implementing these measures can help OTT platforms mitigate legal risks and ensure that their content aligns with societal norms and legal requirements. By conducting risk assessments, reviewing scripts, and resorting to injunctions, when necessary, OTT platforms can minimize the likelihood of facing legal action related to their content.
The evolving nature of OTT platforms requires a proactive approach in addressing legal issues such as defamation, profanity, cultural sensitivities, and more. The implementation of risk assessment measures, script reviews, and the potential use of injunctions can help mitigate legal risks and prevent content that may have negative societal impacts.
In conclusion, a harmonious balance between legal compliance and creative freedom is vital for the sustainable growth of OTT platforms. Through collaboration between industry stakeholders, policymakers, and regulatory bodies, a framework can be established that protects the interests of all parties involved, ensures the quality of content, and provides a safe and enjoyable viewing experience for audiences.
Common legal issues faced by OTT platforms include defamation, profanity, cultural sensitivities, intellectual property rights (IPR) enforcement, and statutory challenges related to content regulation.
Defamation poses a challenge to OTT platforms when false or inaccurate statements, accusations, or imputations are made about individuals or entities through their content. Defamatory content can lead to legal consequences and damage the reputation of the affected parties.
Currently, OTT platforms in many countries, including India, operate under existing regulations such as the Information Technology Act, 2000, and rules formulated by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity). However, there is a growing need for comprehensive regulations specifically addressing the unique challenges of OTT platforms.
The need for a dedicated regulatory body for OTT platforms and their content is a subject of debate. While some argue for a regulatory body to monitor and enforce standards, others emphasize the importance of self-regulation by platforms and adherence to existing laws. The establishment of a regulatory body would require careful consideration of various factors and stakeholder perspectives.
Aparna Purohit vs State of UP, [(2021) 3 All LJ 634]
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