Intellectual Property Rights in OTT Platforms :Restraining the Unrestrained

Author:Sneha Tripathi

Introduction :

With the exponential growth of the internet, the degree of separation from virtual experiences has dramatically shrunk. The need for paid international dialing is questioned with the availability of over-the-top (OTT) players such as Google, Skype, Viber, Whatsapp, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, etc.[1] The OTT services are a source of audiovisual content that is accessible with a variety of devices, either free or with a nominal charge, thus making the experience of staying connected easier and cheaper than before.

The term OTT platforms refer to all the communication services such as voice calls, instant messaging, video streaming applications and are not under the direct control of the government or any telecommunication company and are thus differently that is over the top of the traditional networks that have to comply with the regulatory laws of the cable or satellite networks.[2]

Intellectual property in the era of the Internet:

The ever-adapting concept of intellectual property is now having its presence over the internet protocol for quite some time and has been successful in modifying the law to suit the online community. Intellectual property has been able to make such a mark in the digital environment as the business assets have been increasingly reflected in terms of intellect rather than physicality. With the exponential growth of the internet in our lives, issues relating to intellectual property rights and their protection are also on the rise. 

The internet started as a scientific and social experiment but has now changed and inevitably into a commercial network where new business models are being continuously created to create a new way of delivering the services to the consumers. Thus, this journey is nothing short of revolutionary, even though the nature of the rights remains constant in controlling the exploitation of a person’s creativity and innovation. The manner in which these rights are expressed and exchanged keeps constantly adapting to the changes made in these different technologies. The inventions of different communication technologies such as telephones, phonograms, televisions, broadcasting and cable networks, satellite communications, recorders, compact discs, and the internet have significantly affected the intellectual property law.[3]

Intellectual property rights and OTT platforms:

Many of the companies found online have their enormous databases subject to intellectual property rights. The intellectual property of the original content in the online streaming services is owned essentially by these platforms themselves[4] and provides for future licensing and revenue-generating opportunities. The copyright law especially seeks to achieve an objective of awarding the original creation to its authors and the public has to derive their right to receive information.[5] This is due to the reason that the internet can be seen as a medium having no boundaries and infringement of the copyright becomes a very easy job. For content to be considered safe from the question of ownership, various kinds of things like copyrights, trademarks, licenses need to be considered. 

Copyright protection involves the protection of original works of authorship that are fixated in a tangible expression medium. Trademarks are about branding and names that are indicative of a specific product or service. In the streaming services, there are separate elements to thoroughly examine. These include the text, music, video, publicity rights, etc. there would be a requirement for a new media license or a video syncing license and the right to the publicity of those who appear in the content.

The OTT service providers leverage their content as free and the people choose to receive it as a benefit over the network operators involving a substantial cost. This sector is also less regulated than offline mediums like films and television. This also allows creative freedom in content creation and enables these platforms to appease the wider audience. These benefits, coupled with the convenience of accessing these platforms anytime anywhere are the main reason for the popularity of these services. The ease of usage of the platforms is the most alluring benefit and presented as a win-win situation for the subscribers. The telecom companies have been unable to digest this shift in the revenue in the market and newcomers’ model of the over the top has benefitted from the digital content and the advertisements. The broadcasters are the ones who commission the show to be produced. When a contract is signed between the broadcaster and the producers, a definite fee is to be paid by the broadcaster and the channel is the one that owns the IPR for the content and has the licensing right to broadcast it in the different languages and trade it off to international market, airlines or any content acquiring platforms and even on their own OTT platforms. Earlier, the producers failed in monetizing the increment in the reach and revenue offered and had a limited income. Moreover, no one used to own any IPR which further closed avenues for revenue. 

New regulatory rules for OTT Platforms:

The OTT platforms help in commercialization of the inventive works. These platforms enjoy free running in the Indian market for the content made available by them. The digital media in India was mostly unregulated and content creators were provided with complete creative freedom. The arguments against censorship of OTT platforms have been raised time and again. These platforms are subscription on demand and the viewers have discretion to pay for only what they want to watch. With the increase in consumption of content of OTT platforms by Indian population, numerous controversies have arisen and questions related to obscenity and dignity is being raised. Due to this, the Information Technology (Guidelines for Intermediaries and Digital Media Ethics Codes) Rules, 2021, have been notified. These rules set out guidelines for classification of the content based on various criteria. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting notified the rules on 25th February, 2021, that will help in addressing issues related to fake news, online safety and law parity. 


The high demand for content on TV and digital media means a wise time to retain intellectual property rights but the question is whether content producers are willing to take the risk. With the increased demand for content in digital media, retaining intellectual property rights is a wise choice but certainly comes with some financial risk. The expansion of the OTT space across demographics makes the protection of intellectual property more diligently done so that they can withstand the increased frequency and intensity of cyber attacks. Thus, the consumers, broadcasting channels, and most importantly the OTT platform runners need to opt for the highest level of content security.

There is a requirement of engagement between both the government and the OTT platform owners to evolve system where the balance between creativity and regulation is not disturbed. The new rules should be aimed at curtailing problematic content without taking away the empowerment of the viewers in making more informed choices. The rule should avoid being speed breakers in the growth of OTT industry.

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