On the 31st of July 2023, the Parliament passed the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023 and amended the Cinematograph Act, 1952, thereby strengthening the film piracy law in India. It is now punishable to record audio videos in any place dedicated to exhibiting films. The Bill has introduced new types of film certifications as well.

The Cinematograph Act of 1952 ('the 1952 Act') is the prime law to regulate the exhibition of cinematograph films in India by certifying them based on the prescribed viewership. It had previously been amended eight times. Let us now understand the nuances of the 2023 Amendment.

Was the Amendment necessary?

In simple words, Yes! Piracy, which means using any cinematograph film in an unauthorized manner, is a serious concern in India, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. As per the 2019 report released by Standing Committee on Information Technology, large pirate networks make a whopping $2-4 million every year, while medium and small pirate websites make approximately $2 million annually. This has resulted in a loss to the Government exchequer. That is why the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the 2023 Bill provides that it aims to fight film piracy, thoroughly address film certifications-related problems and fasten the growth of the Indian film industry by introducing the 2023 Bill.

The 1952 Act is closely related to the Copyright Act of 1957. The Indian media and entertainment industry revolves around these Acts. Nevertheless, the punishments and concepts prescribed under them were never correlated. So, there was a need to connect the two Acts to enable copyright owners, specifically, filmmakers protect their cinematograph films against unauthorized monetary usage.

Further, the judgment given by the Supreme Court in the case of K.M. Shankarappa v. Union of India(2000) had not been complied with in the Indian film industry since 2000. In that case, it was held that in the existence of a quasi-judicial body consisting of qualified members, the decision made by it is final and binding on the Executive and the Government. However, before the 2023 Amendment, though the Central Board of Film Certificate existed, the Central Government had the exclusive power to finally decide any film certification-related issues. Due to these reasons, introducing the 2023 Bill had become vital.

What does the Bill amend?

The 2023 Bill has amended the 1952 Act in the following ways:

  1. Firstly, it has inserted two new definitions in Section 2 of the 1952 Act. The Act now states that 'infringing copy' means the same as defined under Section 2(m)(ii) of the 1952 Act.
  2. The Bill also inserted 'UA marker' to Section 2(h), adding new kinds of film certificates for age-appropriate viewership. The following kinds of film certificates existed before the 2023 Bill:
    • U- no restriction on viewership
    • UA- mandatory parental supervision for children older than 12 years
    • A- exhibitable exclusively to adults older than 18 years
    • S- viewership is restricted to specific audiences like scientists, doctors, etc.
    Now, along with them, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) can issue film certificates under the following categories:
    • UA7+: mandatory parental supervision for children older than 7 years
    • UA13+: mandatory parental supervision for children older than 13 years
    • UA16+: mandatory parental supervision for children older than 16 years.
  3. Apart from introducing these new categories, the 2023 Bill has now made it mandatory for applicants (who are generally filmmakers) to acquire an exclusive certificate from the CBFC under Section 4 of the 1952 Act to exhibit their films on TV or other media platforms, in case the films fall under the 'S' or 'A' category. To do so, CBFC may also direct the applicants to make certain modifications to their films to make them fit for unobstructed public exhibitions.
  4. Further, the 2023 Bill has extended the validity of the film certificates issued by the CBFC to perpetuity, under Section 5A (3) of the 1952 Act. Earlier, the validity was only for ten years.
  5. The 2023 Bill has also snatched from the Central Government its revisional powers under Section 6(1) of the 1952 Act. Earlier, albeit the presence of the CBFC, the Central Government was the sole presiding authority to decide on certification-based matters related to films. This was against the Supreme Court ruling in the case of K.M. Shankarappav. Union of India (2000). The 2023 Bill omits the aforementioned Section, thereby not clarifying who would be the presiding authority in such matters henceforth. However, we can infer from the Apex Court's decision in the aforementioned case that the CBFC, which is a quasi-judicial body, will now decide on film certification-related matters.
  6. The 2023 Bill has inserted two new provisions prohibiting the unauthorized audio-video recording and the unauthorized exhibition of films at any non-licensed place of exhibition. Inserting Section 6AA to the 1952 Act, the 2023 Bill penalises anyone who records any film at a place licensed to exhibit films (typically, cinema halls), intending to create or share an infringing copy of the film. Further, the Bill adds Section 6AB to the 1952 Act to prohibit the use or abetment of use of a film's infringing copy for unauthorized profit-based public exhibition.
  7. More importantly, the 2023 Bill has introduced punishment for piracy, without expressly mentioning the term 'piracy'. As per the previous regime, piracy was penalized only under the IT Act of 2000 and the Copyright Act of 1957. Following the 2023 Bill, piracy is punishable under the Copyright Act, IT Act, and the 1952 Act. The 2023 Bill has introduced Section 7(IA) to the 1952 Act, providing that any violation of Section 6AA and 6AB would attract imprisonment for three months to three years, along with a whopping fine amount starting from Rs. 3,00,000/- to 5% of the audited gross production cost. The Bill has also added Section (1B) to the 1952 Act, enabling the persons aggrieved under Sections 6AA and 6AB of the 1952 Act to file suits for copyright infringement under the said Sections, concerned sections of the IT Act, and Section 51 of the Copyright Act.

Concluding remarks

The 2023 Bill aims to control the menace of piracy in the Indian film industry by intensifying its punishment. As the amended fine that is imposable for contravening Sections 6AA and 6AB of the 1952 Act is up to 5% of the audited gross production cost of the film, any pirating entity would think twice before indulging in the act of piracy. That is because 5% of the gross audited production cost of high-valued films will be excessively high for any private entity.

However, the Bill could have expressly specified certain aspects including the deciding authority for film certification disputes, and whether a separate certificate is required for exhibiting A or S-rated films on OTT platforms. Nevertheless, introducing the 2023 Bill was an appreciable move by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Let us hope the Bill helps achieve its goals.


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