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New Cinematograph Bill to make transmission of pirated content an offence

The Union government, which had proposed to make filming of content for piracy an offence, will also make the act of transmitting pirated content punishable and block websites that show such content.

After over 15 consultations across the country with filmmakers and producer organisations, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting is finally ready with the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2023. It will have provisions for harsher punishment for film piracy and the introduction of new-age categories for classifying films.

The Union Cabinet cleared the bill on Wednesday, but its current form has not been released yet. It will be introduced in the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said at a press conference in New Delhi.

Three years of imprisonment and Rs 10 lakh penalty for those who engaged in film piracy are likely to be part of the bill, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A controversial section, which was proposed in the earlier form of the bill—that could have given the central government the power to ask the Central Board of Film Certification to re-examine films already been cleared for exhibition—has also been done away with, they said.

In 2021, the Ministry brought the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021, to “make the process of sanctioning of films for exhibition more effective and curb the menace of piracy”. It proposed several changes, including addition of a provision to sub-section (1) of Section 6 to grant revisionary powers to the central government to direct re-examination of films that have already been certified for public exhibition.

Many filmmakers had opposed the bill, saying the move would have empowered the government to influence the independence of the CBFC in certifying films and even reopen records of already certified films.

Now, the move has been reviewed and not implemented after wide-ranging consultations, said the people quoted above.

Thakur declined to say if the version of the bill cleared by the Cabinet included this provision. However, he said that the bill would “satisfy each and everyone without creating any controversy”.

He said that the bill was finalised after public and inter-ministerial consultations.

According to the officials mentioned above, the provisions in the bill were misinterpreted by a few, but the portions of disagreement had been removed.

The intent is to curb the release of pirated versions, which causes huge losses to the movie industry and the exchequer, according to an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

They have gone beyond efforts to end camcording, but are also looking at the blocking of websites transmitting pirated content, the official said. This would bring a lot of relief to filmmakers, the person said.

Age Classifications
The bill also proposed to amend provisions related to the certification of films under “unrestricted public exhibition” to further sub-divide the existing UA category into age-based categories—U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+.

Thakur said the CBFC would be able to provide more age classifications when certifying films. Only three categories currently exist for mainstream films: U for unrestricted exhibition, U/A for films that can be viewed by minors with adult supervision, and A for films that can only be viewed by adults.

The 2021 draft bill had expanded the U/A category to U/A 7+, U/A 13+ and U/A 16+. Officials said these ratings would allow filmmakers to address mature themes without attracting an A certificate.

The IT Rules, 2021 already require streaming services to use these age classifications with content descriptors.

According to one of the officials mentioned above, they had to bring some norm in the rules for OTT content and cinema; hence, the move was made. The U/A was a huge category and needed more clarity for the benefit of children and parents, the official said. Bloomberg Quint

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