Prasar Bharati’s Copyright Strikes Against YouTubers; The Tightrope between Freedom Of Press & Fair Use



Prasar Bharati, is the age old, state-owned public broadcasting agency that owns and operates the better-known cable TV channel, ‘Doordarshan’ and the pan-Indian radio channel, ‘All India Radio’. It has recently been in the news for issuing copyright strikes against content creators uploading its videos on YouTube, which has led to an interesting debate between the difference in cable and digital, also copyright and free expression.

Prasar Bharati, through its presence on news and radio over decades, has retained millions of listeners and viewers across the country. Even the live telecast of proceedings in both the houses of Parliament is done through Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV. 

Recently, content creators on YouTube, who were broadcasting news, including parliamentary proceedings and speeches by politicians- to the general public through their private YouTube channels, were allegedly sent notices for copyright violation by Prasar Bharati. A copyright strike on YouTube means that a copyright owner submitted a legal copyright removal request for using their copyright-protected content. These notices invoked the provisions of the Copyright Act, 1957, which grants copyright holders the legal authority to protect their intellectual property. Prasar Bharti denied such allegations and asserted that their public service-related content is copyright-free and stated that sometimes copyright violation notices may be generated automatically due to platform algorithms.

What is the cause of concern?

Why is this alleged act by Prasar Bharti inciting reactions, when as the forebearers of communicating information and news, it is only logical to instinctively protect its copyrightable content. The crux of the matter lies at the intersection of copyright protection and the press’ freedom of expression, intricately woven into the legal and constitutional framework, through the fundamental right to freedom of expression enshrined under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution and the ‘Fair Use Doctrine’ embedded within Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957. 

The freedom of the press, a right fought for since time immemorial, seeks to grant the public information and opinion without government interference. It finds bearing in India through the fundamental right of freedom of expression, enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution of India. Parallely, Section 52 of the Copyright Act, 1957 provides a checks and balances mechanism for the right allowed by copyright law to the creator of an inventive work. However, while the principles of fair use and freedom of speech by the press may seemingly be in place, the applicability of these laws to recordings of speeches by public figures, which could be considered information in the public domain, remains an unaddressed and contentious issue. 

The incident has highlighted the need for clearer guidelines and regulations in this area and has ignited a discourse on the interpretation of fair use within India’s legal framework and the advent and domination of the digital medium as the disseminator of news and information. This controversy also hits home for independent journalists in the digital age, as they navigate the complex landscape of copyright laws and fair use policies all while the concept still stays unresolved by the Courts of India. 

Way Forward

As the debate continues, it is clear that this issue has far-reaching implications for freedom of speech and the future of journalism in India. Content creators, copyright holders, and legal experts are actively engaged in a dialogue to elucidate these boundaries. It accentuates the ongoing shift of power dynamics between traditional media and digital platforms, where traditionalists like Prasar Bharati are grappling with the challenges posed by the influence of digital media. As digital platforms become increasingly popular as a medium for news and information, the balance between free expression and copyright protection will require increased scrutiny.

India stands at the crossroads of this complex issue, where it falls upon the Government to strike an intricate balance between upholding copyright laws and safeguarding democratic values by re-evaluating the traditional legal framework and finding an equilibrium to preserve the sanctity of democratic freedoms and constitutional safeguards in this ever-evolving digital media landscape.


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