The Karnataka High Court has issued notice in a petition seeking that video streaming platforms Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, YouTube and AltBalaji, be brought under the Cinematograph Act and obtain certificates from the Censor Board before streaming content. The petition, available on and reported by Bar and Bench, was filed by Padmanabh Shankar. 

The petition prays for: 

  1. Broadcasting content via internet on Netflix, Amazon, Hotstar be brought under the Cinematograph Act 
  2. Direction that the Union government frame a law “to set up a suitable board or Authority” to regulate/sanction the broadcast of content via the internet
  3. Until the government frames suitable laws, the Censor Board should certify all films, cinema, serials, and other multimedia content on streaming platforms
  4. Direction that the video streaming platforms (named in the PIL) obtain certificates from the Censor Board before broadcasting/transmitting content
  5. The petition argues that watching films, serials, and other multimedia content via internet “within four walls of a house/office would amount to public exhibition” under the Cinematograph Act 

The petition argues

  1. Lack of regulation for online video content: The petitioner notes the absence of a statutory framework to regulate content broadcast by internet streaming platforms. The petition specifies the TV show Game of Thrones and movie 50 Shades of Grey as being unregulated, and justifying the petition.
  2. Intermediary liability and platforms: The petition notes that video streaming platforms make film, TV, and other multimedia content available online without “any restriction per se”. It points out that platforms, being intermediaries, are exempted from liability under Section 79 of the IT Act. However, the petition argues that platforms cannot claim Safe Harbor protection under Section 79, since they ‘take up the responsibility of deciding’ what content will be streamed on their platforms by getting into agreements with content producers/generators. 
  3. The “public exhibition” argument: The petition cites Laxmi Video Theatres and Ors. v. State of Haryana, in which the Supreme Court brought DVDs and VCRs under the ambit of the Cinematograph Act. The petition also cites a 2010 Delhi HC judgement in Super Casette Ltd. v. Board of Film Certificate & others to argue that content streaming on platforms amount to public distribution. The judgment has declared that even watching a movie via DVDs and VCDs amounts to public exhibition. 
  4. The success of the Censor Board: The petition states that the Cinematograph Act and the Central Board of Film Certification (the Censor Board) have “successfully regulated” unrestricted public exhibition of films showing “excess vulgarity, obscenity, and depravity, or scenes degrading women”. It cites a 1995 case in which the SC observed a gap in broadcasting regulation, and directed the government to form a regulator for it. 

Readers would be interested in knowing that the Delhi HC recently quashed a PIL which sought to regulate content on streaming platforms.

Also read: Giving the hecklers the veto: On the self regulatory code that Netflix, STAR, Jio and others have signed

Previous cases on online content regulation

In January, the Delhi HC refused to entertain a petition seeking ban on the film trailer of The Accidental Prime Minister, and instead asked the petitioner to approach a PIL as it was considered a matter of public interest. However, the SC refused to grant the petitioner an urgent hearing on January 10, the YouTube trailer remained as is and the movie was released on January 11.

Last year, advocate Nikhil Bhalla – who petitioned the Delhi HC to remove certain dialogues referring to former PM Rajiv Gandhi – asked the government to create a regulatory body for online streaming platforms.

Read the TRAI’s consultation paper on regulation of OTT services: TRAI releases consultation paper to define and regulate Internet services in India

Also read:

IAMAI to release a code of self regulation for OTT platforms; our take