Do we even really need a Censor Board, anymore? 

The Censor Board is again in the news today, for failing to certify a film, ‘Lipstick Under my Barkha’, which its boss Pankaj Nihalani, believes cannot be fit in its three pre-defined categories of certification- ‘U’, ‘U/A’ and ‘A’. The film, therefore remains uncertified. Not too long ago, a similar issue erupted, when a film maker had to eventually go to court, to over ride, several cuts recommended by the Censor Board.

When the Decks were all set for the film’s release, a shocking thing happened. The film suffered an attack of ‘pre-release piracy’. There were even suspicions raised about the print being a ‘For Censor Board’ copy. There have been similar reports, suspicions and allegations surrounding for South Indian films like ‘Premam’ and ‘Papanasam’ as well, but this post deals with the relevance of the functions of the Censor Board, in a modern Digital ubiquitiously internet accessible world.

The origins of the Censor Board in India can be traced to times of Pre-Independence. At that time, India was divided into several presidencies like The Nizam, Travancore Dynasties, Madras Presidency, Bengal Presidency and so on. Each of these independent presidencies had their own independent admistrative agencies, typically, under the blessings of the British.

So, if a Film made at that time, had to be shown over the country, it meant that it had to be certified multiple times. This presented a peculiar problem. A film could be certified for viewing in one presidency, yet could be deemed ‘unfit’ in another.

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A 1938 Censor Board certificate of the Telugu Film – ‘Malla Pilla’ issued by the Madras Board of Censors. The Film was directed by G.Ramabhramam. 

In the year 1949, Independent India setup up a ‘film enquiry committee’ under the auspices of Bombay’s then Mayor, S.K. Patil. The commitee which in its member board consisted of ace Film Makers like B.N.Sircar and V.Shantaram. It also consisted of representatives of the I.C.S ( The body under Information and Broadcasting Wing). The group toured the country and met various stake holders in the country and took their feedback and presented a report titled ‘Report of the Film Enquiry Committee 1951’.

Some of the committee’s recommendations which were eventually implemented were :

  1. Setting up of a body to preserve film Heritage. This body later became the NFAI.
  2. Setting up of a training institute for Actors and technicians aspiring to be part of the Film industry. This body was what became FTII, Pune. ( There was an independent Training institute in Madras which was set up by the South Indian Film Chamber of Commerce. Some of the successful graduates of this institute were Actor Rajinikanth and Chiranjeevi).
  3. Setting up of the first local ‘Raw film’ research and Manufacturing Factory in Ooty. Prior to this Raw films had to be imported and were very expensive.
  4. Having a unified Censor Board, across the nation.

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A Recertified Censor Board Certificate for the Film ‘Ratha Kaneer’ issued by the CBFC.

The validity of the Censor Board certificate was originally meant for only 5 years. It was later extended to 10 years. This means, that every 10 years, a film maker would have to get his film recertified, a totally absurd procedure that has thankfully been done away with.

Censor Certificates of the films Kutty(2001 Janaki Viswanathan) and Thotaal Thodarum (2014 Cable Shankar). The Certificates provide more details about the Censorship process and have done away with the expiry-period of the certificate.

Although Newer forms of Technology for information like the ‘Radio’ and “Television’ evolved, the Censor Board continued to hold its relevance. Not only did Cinema reign supreme in its mass appeal in the ‘Entertainment’ sector, but its other competitors had to follow a ‘code of conduct’, for disseminating information. A channel which wished to broadcast ‘Video’ ( Television) or ‘Audio’ ( Radio) had to get a license in order to obtain ‘radio spectrum’ to transmit their signals. This meant that they were bound by ‘rules’, and they had to be responsible for the infomration which they broadcasted. So, an organization like the Censor Board continued to have ‘functional sense’, until till about a decade ago.

Up and until this time, people were still used to a traditional ‘uni directional’ flow of information. But the growth of the internet brought focus on the bi-directional aspect of the Internet. Not only could users now demand content, at a time of their choosing, but now they could be a part of the system. They could now create content but also share them to the world (upload), something that had not been a part of mankind.

It is in today’s new digital landscape that the ‘function’ of the censor board needs to be addressed. What is the role of the ‘Censor Board’? Every minute, 300 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube, alone. If one even conservatively assumes that this sums up 50% of global uploads ( Commercial Digital content, new user content created, remixed , modified, and shared), then we roughly have about tonnes of data, represented in 600 hours of video, as a function of ‘bandwidth ‘and ‘storage’.

So, there is no way that we can have a body that can physically monitor so much content, even if it had the accessibility. And this rate of content generation only continues to grow. The second aspect is that this content is constantly shared, modified and re-shared. Each of the users on the Internet today :- receive, consume and share. In this flood of ‘rapid information exchange’, in most cases, the ‘creator’ and the ‘last mile user’ analogy has changed totally.


The second aspect is that ‘any form of content’ is so easy to access. At a click of a button, pornography is accessible. Pirated and Infringing content is accessible. Most websites don’t even use the mock ‘Click here to Enter if you are above 18, else leave’. It is just pointless.

So, now we come to the scenario, where a content creator who wishes to disseminate his information under the traditional model, has to subject his rights of ‘freedom of expression’ to a group of individuals who may have a different moral code of conduct, and may choose to apply the scissors, whereas, disseminating in the parallel much larger internet world, need not have to go through the knife. The same aspects come from the viewers point of view, as well. Barring the ‘monetary’ aspects, there seems to be a huge mismatch.

The second aspect of the question, is, what are the powers of a Censor Board in ‘reality’? There have been umpteen instances, when a film, which has been ‘Certified for Public Viewing’ has been held up allegedly by ‘miscreants’ or by those who have used the ‘publicity’ for their own benefits. The Censor Board has been able to do nothing, in these cases.

The Censor Board continues to play an important role, but its role has been severely limited by technological advances, and at times, rendering it redundant, when seen holistically from a view point of society. May be, it is time, that an entire upheaval of the vintage body happens, in connection with the times.

 

 

 

User Generated Content – The Life Blood of the Internet and an AntiThesis of the Traditional Copyright System…

The Internet has been accused by many people, typically most of them associated with the Motion Picture Industry of harbinging piracy, and scaling exponentially the quantum of localised DVD piracy. This perspective isn’t entirely false, the only trouble is that when one sees things from a holistic perspective, the Internet has actually broken the back of what the traditional copyright system stood for.

The traditional copyright system which involved 2-3 centuries ago was designed to be a motivational tool for artists and creators. Over a period of time, it became a very limited monopoly, allowing only few people into it. It limited opportunities for creators and made them dependent on the publishers or the producers. In many cases, the bulk of the revenue was earned by the publishing companies, and the artists only got a small percentage of the royalty. This argument is ‘fair enough’ to some extent, because the publisher bears the risk in case of financial loss. This issue concerns the producers and the artists, but the larger problem of this system was that since a huge amount of investment was needed, it limited the distribution of the created content.

The Internet was designed to be a distribution medium, and a great one at that, and was never intended by its creators to be the next big market place. It is this thing that has gone terribly against the traditional copyright content creators, and is the reason why monetization of copyrighted content seems to be such a pain point for the copyright industry, typically the Film Industry in India.

Today, things have changed. Tonnes of content are created by users, and flipped around the Internet. No one knows who created them, no one knows how many millions, they will reach. Understandably, the content dies a quick death. But no one charged any money to create content, no one paid any money for purchase or access of content, and no one charged anything for distribution, all done within the framework of Internet access, thus completing the cycle of what the copyright industry stood for.

The underlining point here, is ‘access-to-anyone’ to be a part of this new system, something that was not a part of the original Copyright system. The potential to earn money is definitely much much lower, although the potential to win yourself millions of hearts definitely is. The stars of the Internet may never be as big as Stars of the Silver screen, but content creators like TheViralFever, AllIndiaBackchod, Bloggers like Lavanya Mohan, Krish Ashok etc have all earned fan bases for themselves.

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As with film or primary material like news paper, cartoons, these user generated content hold historical evidence of user’s thought processes and their lifestyles, at a given point in time. Even if users may use Copyrighted content as a base for content derivation, most of it would definitely fall within the realm of ‘Fair Use’.

Without User generated content, Engines like Facebook, Blogger, Wikipedia, YouTube or Twitter would cease to exist. The amount of time spent by ordinary users accessing content on these popular portals, had they not been there, may have gone towards watching Top-Down,native copyrighted content like Films, whether legally or not.

We have also reached a critical point where we need to debate if User Generated Content is as valuable or equal to that of Traditional Copyrighted Content, today for the ordinary Indian citizen. If that be the case, shouldn’t the Industry be seeing this as a more dire threat rather than continuing to focus and blame Piracy, when legitimate threats have already encircled it from the flanks, when one considers the ‘expendable-time’ factor?