The time when the whole world was forced to stay isolated in their houses, similar to the movie Contagion, the OTT (Over the Top) platforms experienced a spike in their rates of subscription purchase. There was a robust increase in the viewership of OTT media platforms.

During this time, such platforms were picking up notoriety and the closing down of theatres contributed more to it. As everything was heading towards the virtual space, it was organic for cinema to make a debut on the virtual media platforms as well. Bollywood movies like Dil Bechara, Gulabo Sitabo, Laxmi bomb, Ludo, etc., starring A-listed actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Akshay Kumar were also released on platforms like Amazon Prime Video and Disney+Hotstar.

With booming technology and OTT platforms being the new wellspring of entertainment for the audience, the subject of regulating the content on such platforms has been a hot topic for debates.

When it comes to regulating these platforms, the key issue is related to the jurisdiction as no authority such as the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or any such body exercise jurisdiction over such platforms.

All these platforms require the internet for reaching and connecting with its viewers, through sources like VPN (Virtual Private Network) and Proxy networks, it becomes easy to circumvent the boundaries which these platforms have in their national frontiers and therefore it becomes very complex to deal with.

Although few provisions, such as Rule 3(2)(b), (c), (e), of Information Technology (Intermediaries guidelines) Rules, 2011, it states that due diligence shall be observed by the intermediaries in displaying, hosting, publishing any obscene, pornographic or unlawful content and shall not harm minors in any way, Rule 3(3) states that the intermediary shall not knowingly host, initiate transmission of such content which already exists.

As these platforms are an amalgamation of many domains, there are no specific laws governing the content published or released by them. Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 puts an obligation on intermediaries to exercise proper due diligence when discharging their duties as prescribed by the Act.

But this particular section does not apply to online platforms as the content released are either third-party content or are self-generated. Few other acts related to content regulation such as the Cinematograph Act, 1952 or The Cable Television Network (Regulation) Act, 1995 does not cover online streaming platforms under their ambit.

Furthermore, section 69A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 which is also known as Government’s Internet Kill Switch, it basically gives authority to the government to remove any type of content which is objectionable and/or harms India’s sovereign interests, there is still a need for specific regulating laws for the OTT platforms apart from abovementioned provisions.

There also have been various suits and complaints filed related to the type of content present on the OTT platforms. In 2016, an NGO called Justice for Rights Foundation filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) before the Delhi High Court seeking for outlining the rules to direct the working of online streaming or the Video-On-Demand platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, etc.

Alleging that such platforms show “unregulated”, “uncertified”, “sexually explicit”, “vulgar”, “inappropriate”, “religiously forbidden” and “legally restricted” content. They accused these platforms having shows which often “depict women in objectifying manner”. The petitioners wanted the content present on these platforms be regulated, censored, and licensed before it is made available to be accessed by the viewers. 

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The development in code for regulating OTT platforms

In 2019, in order to regulate these platforms, The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) had released a document called “Code of best practices for online curated content providers.” The main objective of the Code was to provide a guiding principle for Online Curated Content (OCC) Providers.

It also provided a framework for the content which might be deemed prohibited on video streaming platforms. The code mandates the signatories to follow the principles laid down under the code against putting certain kind of content on their platforms.

It was interesting to see that few Video-on-demand platforms such as Amazon Prime Video, TVF Play, Hungama Play refused to sign the Code.

In February 2020, superseding the previous code, The Internet and Mobile Association of India released a new Code where it governed the content on the OTT platforms.

The code promoted setting up of a self-regulatory body called the Digital Content Complaints Council (DCCC) (as there is The Broadcast Content Complaints Council, which is an independent self-regulatory body for non-news general entertainment channels) for handling all the grievances related to the online content on OTT platforms and ultimately penalise them.

After deliberating on the code over the proceeding few months, many OTT media providers were against the code and no consensus could be reached with the IAMAI. Ultimately the digital Entertainment committee came up with another code on 4th September 2020.

A new code was released by 15 content streaming platforms and digital companies called The Universal Self-Regulation Code for Online Curated Content Providers. Among its signatories are Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Zee5, Disney+ HotStar etc. to the self-regulation code and will govern their content on their respective streaming platforms. A few providers like YouTube Premium and Apple TV+ refrained from being a part of this code.

With an immediate effect of the code, all the signatories will now have to follow the code and make a few aspects of their content specific as per the disclosures such as the age and maturity rating of the content so that the views are aware of it, along with content descriptors such as sexual content, violence, use of language etc.

All these measures will help the consumers make informed choices and the grievance redressal system will facilitate the consumers in reporting a violation of any of the principles or rules of the code.


A lot of people appreciated the decision of regulating the content on OTT platforms rather than censoring it as it could have hampered the creative art and quality of the content. Censorship would have meant limiting the right of speech and expression on these platforms but self-regulation will aid them to put out more diversified content.

Having all the descriptors present will help the viewers to make responsible choices while streaming the content as per their liking.

By Shalini Singh, 4th Year B.A.LL.B (Hons.), Faculty of Law, The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara.