Analysing Legal Aspects And the Role of State Regulations In OTT Film Releases and CBFC Certificates

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Desperate times are calling for desperate measures. The world is adjusting to a new normal and so is the film industry. Several mainstream Bollywood films are being released on OTT. And one must have noticed that films are being released without certification by CBFC. Like a web series or documentary series.

There is no provision in law requiring these OTT platforms to get a CBFC certificate to showcase such films. But what about later television releases of these films? These aspects must be discussed in brief.

The Act Related to OTT Platforms and Cinematography

The Cinematograph Act 1918 came into effect from 1 August 1920. The central object of the Act was not only to provide for the safety of audiences, but also to prevent the exhibition of objectionable films. The section 3 & if no person shall give an exhibition by means of a cinematograph elsewhere than in a place licensed under the Act or otherwise than in compliance with any conditions and restrictions imposed by such license. The statement of objects and reasons of the 1918 Act indicated that it was further meant to control exhibition of cinematographs.

Post-independence, a need came to amend the Act, considering the circumstances in the country. The main object of the Cinematograph Act of 1952 was to resolve the confusion which was then caused by the Amendment of 1949. Thus the task of the task of sanctioning films suitable for public exhibition vested with the Union i.e. by CBFC. Thus, the intent of the Cinematograph Act from start was to regulate content further shown in licensed cinema exhibition houses. Extending it to any other medium back then was not possible considering none existed.

Court’s Involvement

In the year 1990’s saw the emergence of VCR/VCP/TV projectors. It came up with a new set of issues. Later the Supreme Court in a couple of judgements (held that VCR/VCP are within the ambit of the definition of ‘cinematograph’ contained in Section 2(a) of the Act).

The video parlours, to carry on the business of running video parlours or showing pre-recorded cassettes of films through the medium of VCR/VCP, must get a license under the provisions of the Act and the Rules. Later the issue cropped on audio- visual recordings on DVDs and VCDs, which the petitioners sell in the market, but with the label that it is only for private viewing. Does it require certification by the Central Board of Film Certification under Section 5-A of the Cinematograph Act, 1952?

Decisions by the Court

In a confusing decision, the Court held that the mere labelling by the film maker or distributor that the film is for private viewing will not exempt the film from prior certification under Section 5-A CG Act. Later this issue was on internet it was then considered by the Karnataka High Court recently in the case of Padmanabh Shankar vs Union of India & Ors. Here the court ruled that Cinematograph Act, 1952 cannot govern the content on the internet.

Provisions under Law

It is clear that content on OTT platforms is not subject to the provisions of the Cinematograph Act, 1952. When one speaks of other web series which were first streamed on OTT and then on television, the concerned television channels regulated such content. And it is as per the provisions of the CTNA and CTNR and self-regulatory guidelines of the IBF. Thus for web-series the question of CBFC certificate did not arise.

So even such films which are first released on OTT and then on television do not need a CBFC certificate. For reasons including CBFC certificate is the next step for films which are in public exhibition in licensed places as provided in the Cinematograph Act, 1952.

Role of State Regulations

The respective state cinema regulations also play a major role. Only such films which are further certified as ‘A’ by CBFC as per point (1) above, need re-certification as U/UA for their satellite release in view of Rule 6(1)(o) of the CTNR. A film which not released theatrically and thus does not fall within points (1) and (2).

Hence not qualifying as qualify as a cinematograph film within the purview of the Cinematograph Act and its Rules. Hence an OTT-released film should stay at par with any other OTT content such as web-series, docu-series, etc. Not being subject to the scanner of CBFC. Broadcasters should apply the principles of the CTNA, CTNR and self-regulatory guidelines of IBF. When it comes to showcasing such content on their channels the way they do it for any of their other content.


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