What Are Content Guidelines?
In an age of increasingly numerous streaming platforms, it may be relevant to have a look at what these platforms allow to be broadcasted under their name. Content on Amazon Prime can range from the kid-friendly sitcom Just All Magic to the undeniably raunchy and violent cartoon The Legend of Vox Machina. This is quite a broad range of shows, but the platform nevertheless requires all content submitted for publication consideration to Prime Video to adhere to the certain content policy guidelines. Failing these guidelines would result in removal of the content.
All streaming platforms and online video services, and even the more traditional TV Channels, have content guidelines. Amazon’s may not line up exactly with all of them, but it does give a general overview of what is permissible and what is not.
The following content is not permitted as per Amazon’s Guidelines:
Offensive Content: Sexually Explicit Content
- Content containing depictions of pornography or explicit depictions of sexual acts or nudity.
- Content that glorifies illegal sexual acts.
- Content primarily intended to sexually stimulate.
- Content containing persistent or graphic sexually explicit or violent acts, gratuitous nudity, and/or erotic themes (“adult content”) are not eligible for inclusion in the Amazon Prime Video catalogue.
- Content that promotes the abuse or sexual exploitation of children, contains pornography, glorifies rape or pedophilia.
For instance, if a Producer wants to include intimate scenes in the film/web-series, as per Amazon Prime Video’s Content Policy Guidelines they have to make sure that there are no scenes depicting gratuitous nudity. However, intimate scenes without any nudity can be included in the film/web-series if there is consensus between the actors and when such scenes are intrinsic to the plot-line. An Indemnity clause discharging Amazon Prime Video from all liabilities in case litigation can also be carved out in the Agreement between the Producer and Amazon Prime.
Offensive Content: Violent or Graphic Content
- Content that contains graphic depictions of extreme gore, decapitations, unsettling content, and/or excessive violence intended to shock the customer.
Dangerous or unlawful content
- Content that promotes, endorses, or incites the viewer to engage in dangerous or harmful acts.
- Content that promotes organized crime, terrorism, or other illegal activities.
- Content that glorifies or promotes illegal acts of animal abuse or torture.
- Content that provides advice on how to begin or be involved in an illegal lifestyle.
- Content that gives guidance on how create or build dangerous materials.
- Content that glorifies or promotes illegal or controlled drug use.
For instance, if the Producer intends to use animals to shoot the audio-visual content, permission should be obtained from the Animal Welfare Board of India. However, if animals are intended to be used for performing experiments then VFX should be used in those scenes. And a Disclaimer should be added that ‘No real animals were harmed during the making of the film/web show.’
- Content that contains derogatory comments, hate speech, or threats specifically targeting any group or individuals.
- Content that promotes hate speech, incites racial or gender hatred, or promotes groups or organizations that support such beliefs
- Content that promotes or glorifies hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promotes organizations with such views. Content that harms sentiments of any particular caste, community, and tribe.
Harassment and Cyberbullying
- Content containing abusive, debasing, and/or humiliating language.
- Content that promotes or facilitates stalking or intimidation.
Illegal and infringing content
The content owners should ensure that their content doesn’t violate applicable laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity, or other rights (including with respect to components of the content such as the background music or items displayed within the content).
For eg:- If the plot-line is based on real characters and their life-stories or characters from existing audio-visual content, necessary rights has to be acquired by the Producers failing which they would be violating Personality rights and life-story rights.
If the Producers did not create and do not have a license to distribute the entire work or components therein such as music then they would be violating the copyright owned by Music right owners.
The Producers who intend to use music in the audio visual content have 2 options:
- Then the music used either has to be original, created for the purposes of that web series/film. The Producer has to engage a music composer to create music and acquire all the rights arising and accruing from the music after due payment.
- In case the Producer intends to use music owned by third party music labels like Sony Music or Saregama, then the Producer has to acquire a Synchronisation License by paying license fee, to synchronise the song to the audio visual content. If the music that has been used lasts for only a few seconds the Producers can take the defence of Deminimis use, however to be on the safer side a ‘No-Objection Certificate’ should be obtained from the music right owners to avoid unnecessary litigation.
In cases where the content contains scenes where logos and trademarks of the brands are clearly visible and no authorization has been obtained from the brand owners for such usage. Then the content owners would be violating the Trademark rights of brand owners.
In such a scenario the Producer has the following options:
- Permission can be obtained from the brand owners for usage of their logo and products in their content by entering into a Brand Association Agreement which would provide visibility to the Brand owner and content for the Producer.
- The Producers could also obtain a ‘No Objection Certificate’ from the Brand owners that their TM has not been depicted extensively but used minimally (few seconds) for dramatic representation. That there is no malicious intent on the Producer’s part to infringe the TM right of the brand owners for commercial gain.
- If the word mark is visible the Producers can change the wordmark, ie, by blurring the word entirely through VFX or can modify the letters/alphabets (D to B) in the wordmark, which is not TM infringement because not using the registered logo.
If the Producer purposely places brands wherein their Trademarks and logos are clearly visible, then necessary authorizations should be acquired for such usage or Brand Association Agreements should be entered into with the brand owners for the use of their brand names. However if the brand names and logos are used incidentally for dramatic representation wherein it is visible to the users only when zoomed , then in such cases , the Producers need not enter into contract with the brand owners as there in no intent to commercially monetize upon the brand.
Country or region-specific restrictions
Amazon Prime Video restricts the availability of content in any country or region based on local content requirements wherein additional publication restrictions may be placed for offensive, illegal, or infringing depictions. As some countries in which Amazon’s content is distributed may have more restrictive standards than other countries for what qualifies as “Offensive Content,”” or “Illegal and Infringing Content.” This may include limitations on the display of tobacco branding and drug use and in some cases disclaimers should be added against the use of tobacco/alcohol. Amazon may also restrict any content from sale in any country or region where the sale or distribution of that content would violate that country’s or region’s laws, cultural norms, or sensitivities.
For instance, as per the newly introduced Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 OTT platforms like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hotstar, etc should ensure that they do not stream the following content on their platforms:
(i) content which affects the sovereignty and integrity of India;
(ii) content which threatens, endangers or jeopardises the security of the State;
(iii) content which is detrimental to India‘s friendly relations with foreign countries;
(iv) content which is likely to incite violence or disturb the maintenance of public order.
The OTT platforms shall also take into consideration India‘s multi-racial and multi-religious context and exercise due caution and discretion when featuring the activities, beliefs, practices, or views of any racial or religious group.
Online Content has become a wealth of information and entertainment, and in an era of growing access to media online, the curation of content becomes more important. While by necessity, online content is less strictly regulated than TV content, it is becoming more clear that no oversight would lead to problems. Amazon’s guidelines are only one format that may be followed, but it provides us with a blueprint of the kind of requirements we need to take into consideration.
Author: Neha Uppin, Legal Intern at PA Legal.
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