OTT platforms working with law firms to avoid IP, vulgar-content controversies

  • Law firms may be involved right at the beginning to ensure that the concept of a show does not infringe on intellectual property rights. At the scripting stage, legal experts can review scripts for potential defamation, privacy violations, and other legal risks.

Lata Jha
First Published29 May 2024
OTT platforms that are now under the radar of the information and broadcasting ministry, have begun to work closely with legal experts over the past few years.
OTT platforms that are now under the radar of the information and broadcasting ministry, have begun to work closely with legal experts over the past few years.(Bloomberg)

New Delhi: OTT platforms have started working closely with legal experts at various stages of production to ensure their programmes don't violate intellectual property rights or fall foul of laws that prohibit vulgar or explicit content.

Streaming companies are also keen to avoid politico-cultural landmines, and law firms say their involvement can extend from scripting to managing the post-release environment.

“Law firms are increasingly collaborating with OTT platforms to ensure compliance with regulations and to navigate the complex legal landscape that comes with digital content creation. While most large OTT content creators in India have their own in-house legal teams that take care of the day-to-day functioning of the platform, including its content, law firms can get involved at various stages, depending on the complexity and scale of a particular project,” Snigdhaneel Satpathy, partner at Saraf and Partners, a law firm, said.

Legally-vetted Content

Law firms may be involved right at the beginning to ensure that the concept of a show does not infringe on intellectual property rights. At the scripting stage, legal experts can review scripts for potential defamation, privacy violations, and other legal risks, Satpathy said. In the production phase, law firms can assist with contracts, negotiations, and ensuring that the filming process adheres to labour laws, location permits, and other relevant legal requirements. Post-production, law firms may assist with clearance of rights for music, clips, and other media used in the show.

Also read: Celebrities' legal fight for intellectual property: A double-edged sword

Cultural sensitivity is paramount in a country where religious beliefs are deeply ingrained, said Ayan Sharma, head of public policy and advocacy, BTG Advaya. “The online series Tandav faced legal action and an FIR due to accusations of hurting religious sentiments by portraying Hindu deities negatively and allegedly inciting religious tensions. To navigate legal challenges and maintain positive audience reception, OTT platforms must strike a balance between creative expression and cultural sensitivity, bearing which in mind becomes necessary for the green-lighting of projects,” Sharma said, referring to one of the key areas for legal guidance nowadays.

Ensure Data Security

Moreover, legal firms are advising platforms to implement robust data security measures and obtain clear user consent for data collection, said Anupam Shukla, partner, Pioneer Legal.

“This helps avoid hefty fines and reputational damage,” Shukla said. Further, past controversies involving objectionable content have led to a more rigorous content vetting process. Lawyers now advise platforms to conduct thorough due diligence on scripts, storylines, and even social media profiles of creators to identify potential red flags, he added.

Also read: OTT players turning to legal experts before airing political dramas

Vinay Butani, partner at Economic Laws Practice, said that other than the 2021 IT Rules that impose specific obligations on OTT platforms, such as adhering to a Code of Ethics and implementing self-regulatory measures, services are also subject to the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act of 1995 and associated rules, which apply to platforms featuring television-like content. “These regulations mandate compliance with programming and advertising standards, with penalties for content that violates decency, morality, or incites violence,” Butani said.

Licensing Agreements and Contracts

To be sure, legal firms advise OTT platforms across originals and acquired content, the two main programming buckets for most services. “In relation to original content, assistance includes advising on compliance with content regulations set by regulatory bodies like the ministry of information and broadcasting, drafting contracts for artistes such as writers, composers, actors, singers and production crew, ensuring intellectual property protection for original creations, and addressing any legal issues that may arise during the content creation process,” Dhiraj Mhetre, partner, Khaitan Legal Associates, said.

Also read: Should OTT platforms be regulated the same way cable television is?

“When a platform is acquiring content from Indian or international sources, legal firms help negotiate assignment or licensing agreements, distribution deals, and revenue-sharing arrangements as well as in conducting due diligence to verify the chain of title and rights clearance, assess any potential legal risks associated with the acquired content, and ensure compliance with laws and regulations governing content distribution and licensing” Mhetre added.

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