This article is authored by Akash Krishnan, a law student from ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad. It discusses in detail the legal proceedings that were initiated against the Ullu app and its owner and country head.
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The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the closure of several businesses and people losing their livelihood. But if we look at it from the perspective of Mr. Vibhu Agrawal it was an opportunity for his business idea to grow. He simply focused on creating and uploading adult content through his online streaming platform Ullu. This was a breakthrough for his idea as during the pandemic his app and soft porn content gained massive popularity amongst the netizens. Although his idea gained him lots of subscribers at the same time it also attracted heavy criticism for streaming erotic and adult content.
About Ullu App
Ullu app was launched in December 2018 and gained popularity for its edgy and erotic content. It is a video-on-demand streaming platform, owned and maintained by Mr. Vibhu Agrawal. The app has always been criticised for its adult content.
Legal trouble for Ullu App
Ullu app is a platform that streams adult erotic content. During the COVID-19 lockdown, the Ullu app gained huge recognition in the adult video streaming market. Statistics show that during the lockdown, the Ullu app’s subscriber count increased by 225% and dropped by 150% during the unlock process. Still, there is a good number of active subscribers using the app.
Being criticised for its content, an FIR was registered by the Maharashtra Cyber Department against over-the-top platforms including Ullu App and 7 other apps. These apps were allegedly transmitting sexually explicit and obscene content online. The FIR was registered on the ground that the content provided by these apps can have a catastrophic effect on young minds and can lead to the disintegration of a woman’s dignity.
Along with this, another FIR was lodged by the former legal advisor of Ullu App against the CEO Mr. Vibhu Agrawal and Country Head Ms. Anjali Raina. The FIR was lodged against the CEO and Country Head for extortion and molestation of the former legal head of the App. The victim has stated that she was sexually and mentally harassed at the workplace in the name of an investigation. In this article, we will discuss two scenarios in which legal proceedings were initiated against Ullu App and its key managerial person.
FIR for depicting pornographic content
An FIR was lodged against Ullu and 7 other over-the-top platforms for displaying pornographic content on their platform. The FIR was registered by Maharashtra Cyber Department under the following sections:
Sale, etc. of obscene books, etc
Section 292 of Indian Penal Code 1860 states, a book, pamphlet, paper, writing, drawing, painting, representation, etc, shall be considered obscene if it is lascivious or appeals to the lubricious interest of an individual and tends to corrupt or deprave the mind of an individual.
If a person is involved in:
- Selling, distributing, or circulating any obscene books, pamphlets, etc or,
- Is involved in importing, exporting, or conveying any such obscene object or
- Takes part or receives profit from any such business where he knows there is an involvement of buying or selling of such obscene object in the business, or
- Advertises any such obscene object or
- Offer or try to do any such act which violates this Section
Then such person shall be punished with imprisonment of a term that may extend to 2 years and a fine which may extend to two thousand rupees.
Punishment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form
Section 67A of the Information Technology Act 2000 states, whoever publishes or transmits in electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conducts any such obscene act, then the individual shall be punished with imprisonment for a descriptive term that may extend up to 5 years and a fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and for subsequent act imprisonment extending up to 7 years and fine which may extend up to ten lakh rupees.
Prohibition of the advertisement containing indecent representation of women
Section 3 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1988 states that nobody shall indulge in publishing any material that depicts an indecent representation of women in any form.
Prohibition of publication or sending by post of books, pamphlets, etc., containing indecent representation of women
Section 4 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act states that nobody shall engage in production, circulation, or distribution of any book, pamphlet, paper, slide, representation, or figure which contains indecent representation of women in any form. Exceptions to this Section:
- Any book, pamphlet, or representation where the use of such figures is proved to be justified for the public good on the ground that such figures are in the interest of science, literature, or any other learning object
- Any represented sculptor or art that is justified on the ground that such figures represent any ancient monument within the meaning of the Ancient Monument and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 or are used or kept for bonafide religious purpose
- Any such figure or representation is made in a movie that falls under Part 2 of the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
Details of the FIR
The FIR was only lodged against the CEO and the directors of the streaming platform. The artists who were part of the obscene acts were not brought under the ambit of FIR. The police in their statement stated that the videos and obscene material published on these streaming platforms are not certified by any certifying agency. They also added that the artists (especially women) used in these videos would not be treated as accused but as a victim because these artists had likely been exploited, lured, or compelled to act in the obscene videos.
On registering the FIR, the summons was sent by the Maharashtra Cyber Department to the executive members of the OTT platforms which include CEO Mr. Vibhu Agrawal of the Ullu app. The Maharashtra cyber department also asked the owners of the OTT platforms to take down their content but not to delete them as they could be used for investigation purposes. Although no arrests were made by the police. The police had asked the owners of these OTT platforms to be present before the police for inquiries about creating, publishing, and uploading obscene content. As of now, owners and other key managerial personnel of the Ullu app are beyond the risk of proceedings, as the compliance had been made by Ullu for restricting the streaming of adult content.
In an interview with the Indian Express, the CEO of the Ullu app talked about censorship of content present in the OTT platform and compliance with rules and schemes of the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry. Mr. Vibhu Agrawal talked about launching Ullu 2.0 which will have regular content that will adhere to applied censorship rules. He also said that there is a market for erotic content in India and the existing censorship rules will affect their business negatively. He further added that the OTT platform has given them the liberty to show their creativity and no doubt people have enjoyed it.
FIR for sexually and mentally harassing the former legal advisor of Ullu App
The owner of Ulu App Mr. Vibhu Agrawal has not only been charged for providing adult content but was also charged for mental and sexual harassment. On August 6, 2021, an FIR was lodged against CEO Mr. Vibhu Agrawal and Country Head Ms. Anjali Raina of Ullu Digital Pvt. Ltd at Mumbai’s Amboli Police Station. The FIR was filed by the former legal head of Ullu Digital Pvt Ltd as Mr. Vibhu Agrawal was trying to frame her in a fake extortion case and also tried to harass her sexually and mentally. The Mumbai police had booked Mr. Vibhu Agrawal under the following provisions of the Indian Penal Code:
Sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment
Section 354A of the Indian Penal Code states a man will be guilty of the offence of sexual harassment if he,
- Commits any act to gain physical contact and tries to involve in an unwelcome sexual act or asks or demands sexual favours or forces a woman to watch pornography, then he shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment that may extend to three years with a fine makes sexually coloured remarks.
- If a man makes sexually coloured remarks then he shall be punished with imprisonment for a descriptive term and can also be liable for a fine.
Assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe
Section 354B of the Indian Penal Code states, if a man tries to use physical force over women to compel her to be naked then he shall be charged with the offence of committing assault or use of criminal force against a woman with an intent to disrobe. Such person shall be punished with the imprisonment of a descriptive term not less than three years which may extend to seven years also and can also include a fine.
Punishment for Criminal Intimidation
Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code states, if a person is guilty of the offence of criminal intimidation, he shall be punished with imprisonment that may extend to two years or fine or both. If such person threatens to cause death, grievous hurt, or destruction of the property then such person shall be punished with imprisonment that may extend to 7 years. If a person tries to characterize unchastity to women then he shall be punished with imprisonment that may extend to 7 Years.
An act done by several people in furtherance of common intention
Section 34 of IPC states that several people committing a criminal act with a common intention shall be held equally liable for the offence.
Complaint filed by the legal head of Ullu
In her complaint, the victim stated that she was the legal head of Ullu Digital Pvt. Ltd. She alleged that:
- Mr. Vibhu Agrawal forced her to attend the screening of erotic content in the editing room and do quality checks for the same.
- He used to send late-night messages and forced her to watch erotic content and discuss vulgar scripts.
- Mr. Vibhu Agrawal along with Country Head Ms. Anjali Raina of Ullu Digital Pvt. Ltd. has harassed her mentally and sexually.
- Mr. Vibhu Agrawal also tried to molest her in the storeroom that was situated at the back of his office.
But in a shocking turn of events, the former legal advisor of the Ullu app who was the victim in this case was arrested by Lucknow Police. According to an Ullu Digital Pvt. Ltd spokesperson, a complaint was filed against the legal advisor of the company with the Lucknow cyber cell. The complaint was filed against her for cheating and extortion of money. This complaint was filed by Ullu’s Administration on 10th June 2021. Currently, the victim, herein the former legal advisor, has been arrested by Lucknow police.
Cancellation of the anticipatory bail
Actress Sagarika Shona Suman has asked for the cancellation of interim anticipatory bail granted to Ullu Digital Pvt Ltd CEO Vibhu Agarwal and country head Anjali Raina. Sagarika Suman has asked for cancellation of bail on the following grounds:
- Amboli police station has completely supported the accused during the proceedings.
- No female investigation officer was appointed as this was a case of crime against women.
As of now CEO Mr. Vibhu Agrawal and Country Head Ms. Anjali Raina both have been released on interim anticipatory bail.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, OTT platforms have gained immense popularity. Their subscriber count has drastically increased for streaming strong and erotic content which was highly enjoyed by their users. But among these people, several other groups raised voices against the content depicted by these platforms. Several FIRs and Complaints were made against content aired on these platforms. Looking at the criticism against content aired on OTT platforms, the Ministry of Broadcasting introduced the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. The IT Rules 2021 designed a code of ethics to categorize content on an age-appropriate basis, restrict access to, and implement an age verification mechanism.
With the introduction of these IT Rules, 2021 platforms such as Ullu will be heavily regulated and may lose their current popularity which he gained through erotic and soft porn content. But Mr. Vibhu Agrawal believes there is a huge market for this adult content in India and if censorship is applied then the market will lose its essence.
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