Traditionally, having a TV would mean that you would have a cable or a satellite connection. However, with the inception of the internet and today, the high speed internet, things have changed. People have moved past from the traditional means of digital entertainment which were majorly restricted to TV and a cable connection to TVs, mobiles and other digital gadgets having internet connection. One of such changes has been brought by the introduction of Over the top (OTT) platforms. On OTT platforms, content is delivered via an internet connection rather than through a traditional cable/broadcast provider. Over the top (OTT) refers to film, television or any other content provided via a high-speed Internet connection rather than a cable or satellite provider. OTT content can be accessed directly on a computer, but it is often watched on a Web-enabled television or through an Internet-enabled device.
OTT platforms gained popularity of because of the sharp growth of Netflix as it started from simply showing old movies and television shows to developing original content which would relate to the youth and began distributing licensed content quickly. Its fast-growing profitability and popularity, especially with younger audiences, has encouraged and increased wide-ranging competition. Especially during the pandemic, OTT platforms have seen a massive growth in viewership and subscriptions.
Movies and other theatrical releases are well regulated and are dealt by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and the Cinematographic Act, 1952 along with supplementing rules and guidelines and in the case of broadcast media, i.e. television are regulated by Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (BCCC). OTT platforms however have no such regulations except that they are governed by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (Meity) and Information Technology Act, 2000, like any other online content. Certain OTT platforms have certain self-regulation/censorship standards of their own. However, with the increase in the popularity and the use of OTT platforms in India and the chances of influencing the minds of the youth, there are wide apprehensions whether these platforms should be regulated or not, in the name of national security, prevention of any future political intervention, maintaining the integrity of the nation, maintaining religious stability and prevention of offences like child pornography, sexual harassment of women and the vulnerable groups including minors, women, and the elderly.
However, on the other side lies the interest of the users and viewers and also of the content creators. It has been suggested that Article 19 (1) (a) Right to freedom of speech and expression of the content creators is allegedly being violated and curbed upon by putting restrictions on content.
Regulation of OTT platforms:
In November 2020, after hearing a petition to regulate OTT platforms, the Supreme Court issued a Notice to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMIA) and the Centre, after which a notification was released stating that all online curated content providers including OTT platforms should come under the ambit of the Ministry of Information and Broadcast (MIB) and not of Meity.
Recently, the ministry of information and broadcast (MIB) has stressed on some form of regulation of OTT Platforms to streamline the sector and regulate the content on OTTs. In this background, the MIB recently notified the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021 (Rules). Following are some of the guidelines that have been laid down for the intermediaries to follow which includes the OTT platforms under the IT Act: -
1. The OTT platforms have to self-categorize themselves into five age based categories such as U- Universal, U/A 7 years, U/A- 13 years, U/A- 16 years and A- Adult
2. Parental lock needs to be provided by OTT platforms.
3. The digital media will also have to follow the Norms of Journalistic Conduct of the Press Council of India and the Programme Code under Cable Television Networks Regulation Act.
4. To establish a three tier grievance redressal mechanism, where the first level is the self- regulation by OTT platforms, second- level would be for self- regulation by the self- regulating bodies of publishers and the third level for an overseeing mechanism.
5. It also provides for the appointment of a redressal officer based on India for addressing grievances within 15 days.
6. There must also be an additional self- regulatory body of publishers from amongst the retired Judge of Supreme Court, High court or an eminent person and about 6 other members.
However, it should be kept in mind that TV broadcasts and cinemas are very different from OTT platforms. So the latter cannot be regulated as the former. As laid down in Padmanabh Shankar vs. Union of India, content streamed on OTT Platforms is not broadcast, that is, it is not meant for public exhibition, rather it is meant for private viewing and hence cannot be regulated under the Cinematographic Act, 1952 and hence cannot be treated the same as a TV broadcast or cinema. Therefore, this has to be kept in mind while imposing restrictions and regulating the content on OTT. The restrictions should not be such so as to hinder the artistic freedom of content creators.
The Regulation of OTT platforms is not as easy as it seems given the number of challenges and the technicalities and associated issues involved. In this modern developing era of Digital Media and different platforms where it can be showcased, the Government / concerned authorities have to look to the interests of all stakeholders and balance the interest of all in a way that a harmonized system is created where licensing, regulation, censorship, net neutrality, and various other complicated issues get settled and also the growth of these platforms is not compromised.
The content creator’s liberty is also to be protected as under international and national laws and a system which peacefully maintains and handles all these issues is to be created. But as this is a very contemporary issue, and as not much laws or literature is available thereon, it will definitely take time and the history is in making at this time, where the laws of tomorrow are being discussed and the search for an ideal system is on. The future and the outcome of the regulation of over the top platforms is much awaited.


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