India is the world's largest producer of films, and this industry is growing rapidly. However, piracy in the entertainment and music industries has been a problem for decades, leading to huge revenue losses for the sector. To curb piracy in film content and protect the creative industry, the Union Cabinet has approved the Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2023.

According to the Information and Broadcasting Minister, this bill was drafted after thorough consultation with stakeholders and by incorporating best practices. It was introduced on July 23, 2023 in the Rajya Sabha and is expected to prove revolutionary in promoting Indian films and helping local content go global. The bill includes provisions for categorizing films based on age groups rather than the current practice of U, A, and UA. It also aims to improve the process of certifying films by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and seeks to bring about uniformity in the categorization of films and content across various platforms.

In 2019, the bill was introduced in Parliament, and an extensive consultation process was carried out at that time. The standing committee also held meetings with film producers and personalities and subsequently made its recommendation. The bill aimed to prevent camcording in theatres by adding a single section amendment. After much consultation and deliberation, it has now been decided to extend those provisions to include the transmission of films and cinematographic content on the internet, commonly known as piracy, which we consider an offense. Subject to its approval, the bill is expected to be introduced in Parliament. While it is not appropriate to go into details, we believe that this additional provision, along with the provision on camcording, will go a long way in tackling the problem of piracy by enabling the government to block channels that transmit pirated content, including political content. While the Copyright Act deals with issues of piracy, the Cinematography Act will now have the power to take action under the IT Act to block such channels.

One of the changes was regarding the UA category, which is now subclassified into three categories: UA 7+, UA 13+, and UA 16+. This certification process brings India in line with international practices. Within the UA category, the onus is now on parents rather than on theatre owners and filmmakers. The new certification provides parents with guidance that the content may be appropriate for specific age groups, such as 7+, 13+, or 16+, rather than a UA category that is very broad and includes children up to 18. Therefore, it becomes more of a guide on what category of content is being shown in a particular movie.

Looking at the industry, there has been a significant shift in content consumption across various mediums, such as TV, OTT, and cinema. The audience's habits and consumption patterns have changed in the post-COVID era, favoring digital, which has impacted TV and cinema consumption. Unfortunately, piracy is also a factor contributing to high consumption, especially in movies. Despite cinemas opening up without restrictions for a year, the film industry has only recovered about 70-75% compared to pre-COVID levels. The content produced for OTT platforms or cinema is expensive and available for free on social media and circulated on WhatsApp. India's low data costs make it easier to download or stream pirated content, and social media apps like Telegram have made circulation even more accessible. These post-COVID trends have had serious repercussions.

In contrast, global markets have strong pay mechanisms, such as ticket pricing for cinemas, OTT platforms, substitutional services, and TV subscription services. India is the only country where prices are low because people are used to watching pirated content for free. Once restrictions are lifted, the content industry needs a strong pay model to develop.

This will also push producers to create more expensive content. Nowadays, we see films made on budgets of 500 or even 1000 crores. Thus, if pirated content is stopped, producers will have more opportunities for monetization. It means that content can be monetized in multiple ways, not just in theatres or on OTT platforms. I believe that if piracy is stopped, we may also see some innovation in terms of monetization. For example, there are models called T1, which is transactional video on demand. In this model, you pay 20–25 rupees to watch a single film. However, these models have never taken off in India because the content was available for free, and customers wanted more content for a lower price. Curbing piracy will have a positive impact on these innovative models, and customers will be more willing to pay that small ticket price.

On a larger scale, it could lead to better motivation for content producers. Platforms like Amazon and Netflix are spending 3000–4000 crores per platform in terms of content investment. However, sometimes that content is also available through pirates. If we look at the overall quantitative investment in the film industry, TV, and OTT, we are sitting at almost a 1.8–1.9 lakh crore industry, with 40–50 percent of this money in the form of content investments. There is a lot of money at stake, and this structural change will benefit the entire ecosystem, including the producer platform and the customer.

One significant change is that piracy will be blocked, which will have a global impact. Indian films or Indian content have not travelled globally as much. However, with pirated content being curbed and having additional monetization opportunities, we will see a lot of ambitious projects coming in. Producers today have not only the Indian market but also the international market to tap into. Therefore, this is definitely a very structural change for the entire ecosystem. We need to educate the audience and encourage them to pay for content because there is a cost attached to it. I do not foresee any future where content is available for free.

These are views and inputs regarding the Cinematograph Amendment Bill 2023, with a specific focus on the issue of piracy. While it is a global concern, it is especially important for the Indian film industry and content creators in India that this aspect is addressed, along with related issues such as categorization of content according to audience requirements. We will have to wait and see how the bill is presented in parliament by the government, as other aspects will also come to light at that time.

Author is an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Bombay.

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