Copyright Issues in Online Broadcasting

Unless you have been living an internet-less life, Netflix and Chill! and Torrents Morghulis are some phrases too common to be unknown. That is the world of online broadcasting. No more gluing yourself to the TV screen at a specific time to enjoy your favorite show. A phone or a tab is all you need to take your entertainment anywhere. But, this entertaining content is available online because of the hard work of an entire team of creative people. It is a no-brainer that this content is their intellectual property. To be more specific, the creators, each one of them, have copyright in the content you are streaming online. This is where a whole lot of copyright issues in online broadcasting come to surface.

Online broadcasting is fairly new to India and so are the copyright issues in online broadcasting.

This industry thrives on quality content and theft of stories and ideas is the norm, rather than the exception.

Protecting copyright in this content is of utmost importance here. But, it is even more important to find a solution to the copyright issues in online broadcasting that crop up in some or the other form.

Here, we take a look at the most concerning copyright issues in online broadcasting and their plausible, practicable solutions.

Online Broadcasting: What does it mean?

In simple terms, broadcasting means transmission of music, films, animation, or any other audio-visual content to the public. This includes transmission through wire like cable television which is the traditional method of broadcasting.

After an amendment to the Copyright Act in 2012, the definition includes wireless transmission.

Therefore, there is a need to talk about copyright issues in online broadcasting.

It’s a fairly recent offshoot of regular broadcasting through Television and Radio. Video-on-demand services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hotstar all fall under the category of online broadcasters.

Music-on-demand services like Saavn and Gaana also form part of online broadcasting channels.

Online broadcasting is now officially recognized as part of broadcasting activities.

Related: Online Streaming Is Now Covered Under Indian Copyright Act

Meaning of Copyright

Copyright is a right by which the owner can stop others from making unauthorized copies of his work. This is a negative right as it prevents copying of the work. Other than this, the owner also enjoys the right of making copies of the work, storing it, and allowing others to do these acts.

As far as the broadcasting industry is concerned, copyright exists in the following works.

  • Scripts
  • Videos
  • Movies
  • TV serials
  • Lyrics
  • Music
  • Songs

Related: The A-Z of Copyright Registration in India

Copyright Issues in Online Broadcasting

In the internet-verse, broadcasters face many issues impinging on their copyright. Out of all these issues, piracy remains an all-time major concern.


Piracy here means illegal hacking/recording of content available online and then making it available for further downloads or streaming.

It’s one of the most serious copyright issues when it comes to online broadcasting. It’s one of the most serious copyright issues when it comes to online broadcasting. Loss of revenue to the producers is one aspect. Discouragement for everyone associated with creating original, entertaining content is another.

Reasons for Piracy: Why Users do it?

Piracy remains the single biggest reason for the loss of revenue to the producers and content creators. So, the most common question that comes to mind is ‘If it is so bad, why don’t people just stop doing it?’

There is no simple answer to this. Users engage in online piracy, and for multiple reasons.

Lack of Incentive to Watch Paid Content

At present, there is not much incentive to watch paid content. High-quality full-length videos, as well as music, are available online to download for free.

Availability Issues

There are times when the broadcaster makes content unavailable outside the home country. The viewer has no option but to resort to illegal downloading and torrents.

Delayed Broadcast

This is another reason that makes illegal downloads and torrents so much more popular than they should be. Sometimes there is so much of gap between the broadcast in home country and other countries that the viewing experience is ruined due to spoilers (the internet is dark and full of spoilers, after all).

Platforms like Hotstar have tried to resolve this issue to a great extent with their ‘Minutes after America, Hours before Russia’ campaign for airing the massively popular Game of Thrones series.

Yet, the problem remains unresolved to a certain extent. Primarily because not all the content is as popular as Game of Thrones and therefore, is available only hours after release in its home country.

Affordability/One Time Use

Some users may intend to watch a show/movie only once and feel uncomfortable/robbed-of-money paying for it. Moreover, some people are simply not able to afford paying for watching content online.

Sheep and the Herd

Why is it so easy to download movies and shows illegally? When a large chunk of a populace is doing, it just becomes acceptable behaviour.

Producers are Already Rich

Most users believe that even if they watch or download a show illegally, they are not causing any loss to the producer. But, every illegal download costs and hurts an entire host of people associated with the industry.

As per a news report, the Indian film industry loses $ 2.7 Billion (Rs. 18,000 Crore) each year due to piracy. This is more than the revenue earned from legitimate sources.

This is problematic because people who create this content need money to come up with more content like this. And for doing that, they need all the money they can generate.

Related: Advantages of Copyright Registration in India

Legal Lacuna

Protection to broadcasters has always been seen as anti-competitive. The common perception is that it hinders free exchange of content.

This is untrue, however.

The fair use provisions in the Copyright Act take care of use and exchange of copyrighted work for legitimate purposes.

Accidental Releases

HBO Spain recently aired an episode of Game of Thrones 4 days ahead of the scheduled release. This unleashed a pirate-fest, costing the channel millions of dollars. While this happened to a regular TV channel, the possibility of it happening to an online broadcaster is as real as it gets.

The Unending Internet Universe

Online broadcasting involves the internet as an invariable medium of transmission. The sheer size of the internet makes it a herculean task to scourge through all the content and check for copyright infringement.

Violation of Broadcasters’ Right

The Indian Copyright Act provides a special right to broadcasting organizations known as Broadcasters’ reproduction right. This right lasts for 25 years. If any person does one or more of the following acts without a license, this right is violated.

  • Re-broadcasting content
  • Recording the content
  • Making the content available to public for money
  • Selling or renting the recorded content

So, every copyright issue has a piracy angle to it. The piracy problem is not only unethical but illegal too.

Related: How to Get Stolen Content off the Internet

The Way Ahead

True, there are many copyright issues in online broadcasting. But, the need of the hour is to tackle them head-on and below are some ways in which it’s possible to do exactly that.

Separate Internet Copyright Act

Online broadcasting is a full-fledged industry now, thanks to the internet. It is time to provide for the legal recognition and protection it deserves.

The present Copyright Act speaks about broadcasters’ rights and penalties for any breach of technological protection measures. But that’s it.

What we need is a separate Act governing online broadcasting and copyright issues relating to it. A comprehensive Act recognizing all possible scenarios relating to online broadcast and imposing hefty fines with jail term will prove to be a useful tool in curbing online piracy.

Incentives for Watching Paid Content

We are not looking at monetary incentives here. Making available cheap, user-friendly options of downloading music, videos, and films is a surefire way of battling illegal downloads.

Take the example of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. A study has shown that online music streaming services have reduced the number of illegal downloads by more than fifty percent.

This is encouraging and shows that not all users wish to engage in piracy when given a better option.

Related: How to Reply to a Cease and Desist Letter

Synchronized Simultaneous Broadcast

The difference in time zone doesn’t have to be an enabler for piracy. Simultaneous broadcast in countries with different time zones with a strict check on any accidental leakages is the right way to avoid mishaps which have the potential to cost millions to the producers and broadcasters.

Artificial plus Human Intelligence

We often talk about how AI is the way forward. But here, it will take a combination of human and artificial intelligence. Pruning the internet for pirated content can be the job of automated scripts running through web pages. Human supervision should exercise discretion, wherever needed.

Stricter Enforcement

All the Acts and Rules mean nothing without a system in place to enforce them. Equipping every police station with an IPR cell of its own is the first step in this direction. Officers should receive specialized training to deal first-hand with complaints of IP infringement.

Collaboration with cyber cells to track IP addresses making illegal downloads is the next step towards stricter enforcement of IP laws.

The state of Telangana is leading the way towards curbing piracy by establishing a dedicated IP cell, becoming the first Indian state to do so.

Online broadcasting is set to replace traditional cable TV. This is just the beginning of copyright issues in online broadcasting start to emerge.  It’s about time that the government and the users take them seriously. Timely action will minimize, if not eliminate the losses arising due to these issues.

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