With the Union cabinet giving its approval to the bill on Wednesday, the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry is set to introduce new legislation with strict provisions to tackle the threat of film piracy, which generates losses from worth billions of rupees to the film industry annually.
The bill will also introduce a detailed classification of movie content based on age groups, taking into account the growing content on OTT platforms curated by a sprawling industry.
I&B Minister Anurag Thakur said on Wednesday that the Center will introduce the Cinematography Bill, 2023 in the Monsoon Session of Parliament.
Thakur said that extensive consultations with international filmmakers and the Indian film industry were carried out before drafting the bill. He said that international best practices have been included in the bill, which has undergone public and inter-ministerial consultations, with more details to be revealed during the Monsoon Session.
The new bill seeks to replace the 71-year-old Film Act of 1952, which is the only legislation guiding the certification of films for public display. The provisions of the legislation are applicable to films released in Indian cinemas, which are regulated by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
There has been a major worldwide jump in the consumption of pirated content in recent years. A joint report published by Akamai and MUSO in February last year showed that global demand for pirated content increased between January and September 2021, with India ranking third globally for consuming pirated content in 2021.
Last week, I&B Secretary Apurva Chandra said that the new bill is in the works and action will be taken against malicious websites that illegally record content or stream it online.
The current Motion Picture Act of 1952 has no provisions to control video piracy and has limited age-based categories for film certification. It had become largely redundant with the growth of the OTT industry and the content produced by the platforms each year.
OTT content is governed by the Information Technology Rules (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Code of Ethics), which were published in 2021.
In recent years, the government has made multiple attempts to amend the existing Film Law.
An expert committee under the leadership of Judge Mukul Mudgal was set up in 2013 to review the law. Subsequently, a second panel under the direction of filmmaker Shyam Benegal was formed in 2016 to design guidelines for certification under the Act.
In 2019, an earlier draft of an amended film bill with new provisions to address piracy of film content was introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Then the Information Technology Standing Committee in Lok Sabha submitted a report on it, after which the ministry introduced a bill in 2021.
This bill had introduced new provisions for the certification of films in the UA category by dividing them into categories based on age, such as U/A 7+, U/A 13+, and U/A 16+.
It had separate provisions stating that no person would be permitted to use any audiovisual recording device in a location to knowingly make, transmit, or incite to make or transmit a copy of a motion picture or part thereof without the written permission of the author. It also contained provisions to punish those involved in piracy, including prison terms and a fine.
The new bill is likely to maintain several strict provisions against those involved in movie piracy.
What drew the most attention, however, was a controversial clause in this draft bill that empowered the government to order the “re-evaluation” of a certified film on complaints of violations of Section 5B(1) of the Film Act.
Section 5B(1), derived from Article 19(2) of the Constitution, imposes reasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression in the interest of India’s sovereignty and integrity, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States , public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt, defamation or incitement to any crime.
It is not known if the 2023 Film Bill will maintain this clause.