Unlike in case of Films, the online video streaming websites do not have any obligation to censor their content, or get a certificate, or get their content screened before uploading on the internet, especially in case of websites like Youtube. There is no law in India that regulates censorship of films and shows that are streamed online.
The Cinematography Act only regulates the censorship of films intended to be released in theatres, home media, and TV. The Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, in response to a Right to Information application in which it was asked about the laws governing web content, stated that the current law does not govern web content and it is not looking forward to censoring content online.
Since the Censor Board does not have jurisdiction on the video content being uploaded on the internet, if the filmmakers do not want the Board to scissor their films, the trend is to release these films on the Internet. The movie “Unfreedom” is an example of one such movie that was released on Netflix, uncensored, as the Censor Board refused to give it a certificate due to its homosexual content, stating that it would ignite “unnatural passions” among the audience.
Netflix also recently released Sacred Games as India’s first Original Series, which has evoked a line of criticism in India despite all the worldwide critical acclaim it received. The reason being the adult content, violence and the abusive dialogues which are an integral part of the show. The controversy revolving around the show is also that Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s character in the show has allegedly abused the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Legal status of censorship and banning of video content streamed online
Even though there are no censorship obligations to be followed in case of online video streaming, the Government still has the power to block altogether any URL or website under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of India, security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States or public order or for preventing incitement to commit any cognizable offence. In this regard, the government has also notified Information Technology Rules, 2009 to regulate content on web which includes video content, sound clips and even written articles.
In 2015, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) had directed the Indian Internet Service Providers (ISP) to block 857 pornographic sites underSection 79(3)(b) of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act). The intention behind blocking the pornographic websites was to block those that were dealing with child pornography. Similarly, in 2017, on the recommendation of a government committee, around 1,329 social media URLs were blocked or removed because they contained “objectionable content”.
Furthermore, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is assessing a consultation process to construct a framework to regulate online video streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hotstar, etc. on requests made by some of the stakeholders of the film industry.