December 11, 2019

Google To Face Trial As Supreme Court Rules Intermediaries Can’t Claim Protection From Publishing Defamatory Content

[ By Bobby Anthony ]


The Supreme Court has ruled that Internet intermediaries like Google cannot claim any protection for publishing defamatory content online prior to the 2009 amendment to Section 79 of the Information Technology (IT) Act.

Accordingly, the Supreme Court has asked Google to face trial.

A bench headed by Justice K M Joseph rejected the contention of Google India Private Limited that the platform to upload content on the Google's group website was developed outside India, therefore it was virtually not possible to take down the content uploaded on the website.

“We reject the contention of the appellant (Google) that the High Court should have acted on the Google LLC conditions and found that the appellant (Google) is not the intermediary. We hold that this is a matter for trial,” the Supreme Court said.

The Supreme Court verdict came after an appeal was filed by Google India against the verdict given by the Andhra Pradesh High Court.

The case before the Andhra Pradesh High Court stated that under the law of the United States, which governed the functioning of the parent company, it is not obliged or required to remove any allegedly defamatory content without court order.

The court findings pointed out that there was no contention that if Google is assumed to be the intermediary, the continuance of the articles after a request by the complainant to remove them would not constitute publication from its end, as there is no court order in India.

The Supreme Court also set aside the findings by the Andhra Pradesh High Court regarding the alleged refusal of the appellant to respond to the notice to remove content.

“We make it clear, however, that it is for the court to decide the matter on the basis of the materials placed before it and taking into consideration the observations contained in this judgment,” noted the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court took into account the provisions of the Information Technology Act to indicate that prior to the amendment to Section 79, it did not protect the intermediary from being held liable for publishing or posting defamatory content.

Earlier, Vishakha Industries Ltd had initiated defamatory proceedings against the company.

Vishakha Industries is a public limited company engaged in the business of manufacturing and selling asbestos cement sheets with seven manufacturing plants and more than 25 marketing offices all over India.

The first accused is alleged to be the co-ordinator of Ban Asbestos India, a group hosted by Google, which published articles against the company. The company claimed it was singled out though there were also other groups manufacturing asbestos cement.

An article was published titled ‘Visaka Asbestos Industries Making Gains’ in July 2008. A trial court has summoned the accused in the case through an order saying, “Whereas your attendance is necessary, answer to the charge of under Section 500, Section 501 of Indian Penal Code read with Section 34, you are hereby directed to appear in person or by pleader before the AACMM Court on the day of 9.09.2009 at 10.30 am”.

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