A new self-regulation code- “Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs (Online Curated Content Providers)” was unveiled by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) on 4th September 2020. So far, it has been signed by fifteen of the leading OCCPs in India- Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar, Voot, Zee5, ALTBalaji, Eros Now, JioCinema, Discovery+, Hungama, Shemaroo, Arre, HoiChoi, Flickstree, and MX Player.
This comes concerning the directions made by the government to these OTT platforms to self-regulate their working and content provided on their platforms.
A brief of the Code as specified in the press release by AIMAI states- “To give consumers more choice and control, the Universal Self-Regulation Code includes a framework for age classification and content descriptions for titles as well as access control tools. The Code also introduces a clear, transparent, and structured grievance redressal and escalation mechanism for reporting non-compliance with the prescribed guidelines. As a part of this mechanism, each OCCP will set-up a Consumer Complaints Department and/or an internal committee as well as an advisory panel that will deal with complaints, appeals, and escalations. The advisory panel will constitute a minimum of three members, including an independent external advisor and two senior executives of the respective OCCP.”
OCCPs are now becoming the key sources of entertainment for consumers. This is primarily because of the comfort offered by them in terms of flexibility, as the consumers can watch a show of their choice, at any time from any place. However, the growing use of these OTT platforms has raised concerns over its regulation and censorship. Due to this reason, Public Interest Litigations (PILs) against these platforms were also on the rise.
“The Online Curated Content (“OCC”) industry plays a prominent role in the Indian socio-economic landscape and is expected to serve a majority of the Indian population in the coming years. It has transformed the way that content is created and consumed through employing advanced technology to provide consumers flexibilities related to the viewing of content at time, place, and device(s) of their choice.” Thus, it becomes even more important to regulate the industry.
The first self-regulation was done by the OTT platforms through the “Code of Best practices for Online Curated Content Platforms (OCCPs)” which was adopted in January 2019. However, the government suggested strengthening the Code. There were 9 signatories to this code.
Thereafter, a revised version of the self-regulatory code was introduced in February 2020 but was signed only by 5 of the OTT platforms. Thus, it received a major set-back. Subsequently, the Information & Broadcasting Ministry gave 100 days to OCCPs to finalize a self-regulatory code.
Finally, on 4th September 2020, the new code, i.e., the Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs (Online Curated Content Providers) was announced by the IAMAI.
Key Features of the New Code
In its press release, the AIMAI provides that “The goal of this industry-wide effort is to empower consumers with information and tools to assist them in making an informed choice about viewing decisions for them and their families, while at the same time, nurturing creativity and providing creators the freedom to tell the finest stories. By aiming to do what is best for both consumers and creators as guiding principles, the Code intends for India to be one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing entertainment industries in the world.”
The Code is divided into 4 Parts-
· Part A-Introduction, Preamble. Objectives, Applicability, and Principles of self-regulation
Part A begins with the introduction to the Online Curated Content (OCC) industry. It specifies the importance of such an industry for the socioeconomic landscape of the country. It also provides that the industry recognizes the principles already laid down in the existing statutory and judicial pronouncements and the same has been used as a guide to formulate uniform standards that apply to all stakeholders in the online curated video content industry.
This part continues with the features of the OCC industry and differentiates it from the User Generated Content (UGC) providers.
It also discusses the business models of such OCCPs, which are-
- Subscription Model- where access to content is provided to consumers who pay a periodic fee.
- Ad-supported Model- where content is provided for free with advertising on the service.
- Transaction Model- where the consumers have to pay for each title.
- Hybrid Model- where one or more of the above-mentioned models are combined.
Thereafter, the Preamble and Objectives of the Code have been discussed. It specifies that the code has been jointly developed by the companies carrying on business in India with the objectives to:
- Empower consumers to make informed choices on age-appropriate content;
- Protect the interests of consumers in choosing and accessing the content they want to watch, at their own time and convenience;
- Safeguard and respect creative freedom of content creators and artists;
- Nurture creativity, create an ecosystem fostering innovation and abide by an individual’s freedom of speech and expression;
- Provide a mechanism for complaints redressal about the content made available by respective OCCPs, and
- Provide an escalation mechanism for redressal of complaints relating to content made available by respective OCCPs.
This Part also lays down that the code has been developed in harmony to the statutory and judicial guidance already available OCC industry. It specifically mentions that the code aims to protect the freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. It is also in consonance with other statutes, like the Information Technology Act, 2000, Copyright Act, 1957 which aid the OCCPs.
· Part B- Short title, extent and commencement, and self-regulation code
This part mainly “sets out the commitments undertaken by all signatories, as best practices towards self-regulation.” These practices, as mentioned in the code are as follows:
- Prohibited Content: It specifies that the OCCPs will not make a certain kind of content available on their platforms. This includes contents that promote and encourages disrespect to the sovereignty and integrity of India; content related to the depiction of children in sexual activities; content which promotes terrorism or any other kind of violence against the State or its institutions, etc.
- Classification of Content: It lays down that to empower the consumers to make informed decisions on the consumption of content, the platforms shall provide information regarding the types of content available, themes therein, age classification, etc.
- Age Classification/Maturity Ratings: The OCC platforms also agreed to provide ratings and classifications on individual content based on nature and type, like, general/universal viewing, parental guidance required, etc or according to subject matter treatment of themes such as Crime & Violence, Sex, Obscenity & Nudity, Horror & Occult, Drugs, and Language.
- Content Descriptor: It is further mentioned that each title on the platform shall have a description of the nature of the content, which will also provide viewer discretion if any.
- Parental and/or Access Control: It also states that the platforms would provide parental or access controls. Alternatively, control measures such as passwords can be provided to restrict the streaming of content meant for mature audiences.
· Part C- Complaint Redressal Mechanism
This part of the code sets out provisions related to the mechanism for complaint redressal. It establishes a ‘Two-Tier Redressal Mechanism’- Tier I, at the OCCP level, and Tier II, at the industry level. A complaint can be registered with Tie I and Tier II can be approached in case of dissatisfaction. The complainant can also directly approach Tier II. Moreover, even the government can register complaints with either Tier I or Tier II, and it also has the power to forward the complaints made by any consumers to either Tier I or Tier II.
- Tier I- Under this, the signatories of the code are required to form a “Digital Content Complaint Forum (DCCF),” which is internally instituted to address the complaints related to the content available on respective platforms. Further, functions of such a forum include ensuring that the respective OCCPs adhere to the code, addressing the complaints and advising on the course of action, etc. The reporting and redressal process has also been extensively dealt with.
- Tier II- The code provides for setting up of a separate body under the IAMAI known as the “Online Curated Content Providers Governing Council (OCCP Governing Council).” The Secretariat as appointed by the OCCP Governing Council shall be responsible for setting up and the day-to-day functioning of the industry level-Tier II Complaint Redressal mechanism – The Digital Content Complaint Council (“DCCC”). The jurisdiction of DCCC extends to-
- Complaints not resolved at Tier I level,
- If deemed necessary, Suo Moto complaints can be entertained, provided that they have not been taken up Tier I,
- Any complaints by government,
- Escalation of any complaints relating to Content, incorrect age-classification, incorrect content descriptor, and parental and/or access controls.
- But it shall not extend to complaints related to non-signatory OCCPs.
Further, the rules relating to the constitution of DCCC, the term of office of its members and chairperson, the terms of service, quorum and meetings, the procedure to file complaints, and the decisions of DCCC have also been discussed.
Part D- Affirmation of members
This part contains the affirmation to be made by the signatories to the code, declaring to abide by the rules in the code.
The introduction of the “Universal Self-Regulation Code for OCCPs (Online Curated Content Providers” was long overdue. It is a welcome move and provides clear guidelines for the OCCPs. With the growing demand for such platforms, mainly because of the convenience offered by them, the concerns regarding the regulation of such content was also on the rise. Thus, the introduction of this code settles the ambiguity surrounding such regulation. Also, the establishment of two-tier redressal platform seems to be an effective mode of redressal mechanism for consumers.
 The code for Self-Regulation for Curated Content Providers.