India’s new rules for OTT platforms could lead an increase in content-related disputes

India’s new rules for OTT platforms could lead an increase in content-related disputes
Over-the-top (OTT) platforms operating in India include Netflix (L), Disney+Hotstar (C) and Amazon Prime Video (R)Unsplash/BI India
  • The Indian government’s new IT rules for over-the-top (OTT) platforms ask for a three-tier grievance system and content classification.
  • While this may create a forum where users can air their complaints, it could also result in an uptake of content related disputes in India.
  • The likes of Hotstar, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and others will have to steer around India’s diverse sensibilities, cultures and beliefs.
Until now content on OTT platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar and others were largely unregulated, allowing them to cater to varied sensibilities. However, content on OTT platforms has also courted controversy time and again.

Significant compliances have been introduced for OTT platforms such as certification of films and web-series, and parental locks. A 3-tier grievance redressal mechanism has been prescribed for OTT platforms as well as news portals. This might eventually lead to a substantial increase in content related disputes in India.

The three levels of addressing complaints
OTT platforms and news portals will have to formulate a robust three-tier grievance redressal mechanism.

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The rules provide for two levels of self regulation. First, self-regulation by the platform through a grievance redressal officer and, second, by an institutional self-regulatory body comprising industry experts and headed by a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or other independent eminent personality in the relevant field.

This is followed by the third level of oversight through an interdepartmental committee constituted by the government. This committee will hear appeals arising out of decisions taken at level two, and if a complaint is referred to the committee by the Ministry of Information and Broadcast (MIB).


The maze of India's many moods
While an institutional self-regulation mechanism may enable citizens to have their concerns heard through a formal process within definite time frames; the oversight mechanism by the government certainly tightens the government’s grip on the overall operations of OTT platforms.

A big challenge for OTT platforms, while dealing with complaints, will be to steer around diverse sensibilities, cultures and beliefs of the Indian audience and their demands for different genres of content.

It is also essential to not overlook the fact that content curation of OTT players offer ‘video-on-demand’ services, and curate content based on demands of viewers, often analysed basis viewership data and trends.

While a certain type of content is perceived as offensive by a certain section of public, it is popular amongst another. It is unclear as to how OTT platforms are expected to practically redress grievances from different users.

Content Classification
OTT platforms are required to classify all films, web- series or other shows, based on:
  • age of viewers
    themes and messages
  • violence, nudity, sex, language, substance abuse, horror, content, tone and impact
    target audience
  • implement parental controls
Ratings under the Rules – U/A, U/A 7+, U/A 13+, U/A 16+ are similar to the age sensitive categorisations proposed by IAMAI (Internet and Mobile Association of India) under its self - regulatory code issued last year.

*Tanu Banerjee is a partner, Ishan Johri is a senior associate and Garima Kedia is an associate at law firm Khaitan & Co. Views expressed here are personal.

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