India Feels “Urgent Need” to Censor Content on Netflix and Other OTT Platforms

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With the content on over-the-top (OTT) platforms being published without any effective central regulation, there is an urgent need for dedicated rules for the video streaming players, one of the nation’s top cyber law experts said on Thursday.

His views come against the backdrop of reports this week that the Union Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has proposed that online content regulation in India should come under its ambit, not the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology.

“OTTs qualify to be intermediaries under 2 (1) (w) of the IT Act , 2000 if they are dealing with third party data,” cyber law expert Pavan Duggal told IANS.

Intermediaries are hardly held accountable for the content published on the platform, and are generally subject to the rules set by the platforms themselves.

“But OTTs also have their own content. So the same legal entity shares the features of an intermediary and not being an intermediary at the same time,” Duggal said.

“So there is a need for dedicated rules for the OTT sector. The OTT is a unique animal. You do not have similar kinds of analogies for OTTs elsewhere,” he said, adding that there should be a separate set of rules for self-generated or self-owned content and then there should be a separate regime for third party data.

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Information and Broadcasting Secretary Amit Khare said at the FICCI e-FRAMES online convention this week that OTT, being a digital platform, falls under the purview of the IT Ministry “but now we are proposing a decision that the content should fall within the purview of I&B Ministry.”

Moreover, as the content disseminated by OTT platforms do not go through the same regulations that content aired on televisions or released in theaters or published in print, it does not create a level playing field for all the stakeholders.

Many content creators, therefore, take the OTT route to release their content to bypass these regulations.

There have also been complaints that these platforms have taken the liberty to disseminate harmful and erotic content.

“I think the time has come for enabling regulation,” Duggal said, adding that the current IT Act is deficient as it does not provide for major criminal consequences for OTTs.

“Publicly obscene electronic content is an offense under Section 67 of the IT Act. These OTT platforms often publish frontal nudity and erotic content in gross violation of the IT rules and yet, no action gets taken,” he said.

“Very quickly we need to come up with penal sanctions for OTTs who do not comply with minimum parameters,” Duggal said.

Stressing on the need for “enabling” regulation that does not appear to censor the Internet, he said that there is a need for crystal clear norms applicable to OTT platforms because “self-regulation does not work in India”.