High Court (India)

October 24, 2019

Social media platforms ought to block offending and defamatory content globally and not just resort to geo-blocking: Delhi HC

[ by Legal Era News Network ]


The Delhi High Court has ruled that any offending material uploaded from within India on to the social media platforms would have to be disabled and blocked on a global basis. If the unlawful act in case of content uploaded from India is committed from within India, a global injunction shall operate in respect of such content. In case of uploads which take place from outside India, the unlawful act would be the dissemination of such content in India, and thus in those cases the platforms may resort to geo-blocking.

The case arose out of the allegation of the Plaintiffs that various defamatory remarks and information including videos, based on a book titled ‘Godman to Tycoon – the Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’ were being disseminated over the social media platforms (defendants). An interim order was granted directing removal of the offending URL and weblinks for the India domain. However, the social media platforms raised objections to removal/blocking/disabling the impugned content on a global basis.

The primary question before the Delhi High Court was whether geo-blocking of such content would be sufficient. Moreover, what would constitute removal or disabling access within the meaning of Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (Act). Can removal or disabling access be geographically limited or should it be global? Also the question as to whether the platforms can be directed to block the content on a global basis, or would the jurisdiction of Indian courts only extend to directing blocking in the country domain was posed before the Court.

The Court relied on the judgment in Shreya Singhal v Union of India, wherein it was held that once the Court passes an order, the social media platforms are bound to disable the content globally and cannot raise objections to the geographical extent of implementation of the injunction.

According to the Delhi High Court, if uploading of data which the Court considers defamatory or offensive has taken place from IP addresses located in India, then Indian Courts would have jurisdiction to direct the platforms to remove and disable access to the said information or material, from the computer network of these platforms on to which the said information and data has been replicated. The material/information having originated from India, courts in India would have jurisdiction to direct removal of the same. After uploading of the data or information if the same has been replicated or disseminated or stored in different servers/computers in different geographical locations, the same would not mean that Courts would lose jurisdiction on the same, as the data/material/information was uploaded from India, in the first place. So long as the uploading from India led to the data or information ‘residing in’ the network or being ‘connected to’ the network, the same ought to be disabled or blocked globally.

The High Court also noted that in case only geo-blocking is done, and access is disabled to viewers from India with the offending material continuing to reside in global platforms which users can gain entry into, access cannot be said to be fully disabled. There is an obligation upon the intermediary to disable access, which would have to be read as meaning to completely disable access and not partially disable access.

The Defendant platforms agreed to disable the access to the URLs in the India domain and did not object to the injunction if it was restricted to the Indian domain by availing of geo-blocking. However, they objected to the injunction being extended on a global basis. Therefore, the Court held that, a perusal of Section 75 of the Act shows that the Information Technology Act does have extra territorial application to offences or contraventions committed outside India, so long as the computer system or network is located in India. Thus, so long as either the uploading takes place from India or the information/data is located in India on a computer resource, Indian courts would have the jurisdiction to pass global injunctions. Further, the Court relied on a Supreme Court judgment that “the grant of an injunction which would have a global effect would be absolutely within the scope of the suit and meet out proper justice.”

The Delhi High Court concluded that if geo-blocking alone is permitted in respect of the entire content, the offending information would still reside in the global platforms of the Defendants, and would be accessible from India, not only through VPN and other mechanisms, but also by accessing the international websites of these platforms. The Court held that, “The Canadian, European and American websites of Google, Facebook, You Tube and Twitter can be accessed in India through various technological means. This would thus result in partial disabling and partial removal. Orders of Courts are meant to be implemented fully and effectively. While the Defendant - platforms are raising issues in respect of comity of Courts, conflict of laws and the right of freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, the rights of privacy, the right of reputation of a citizen, national security, national integrity, threats to sovereignty, etc have to be equally respected.”

The Court concluded by mentioning that “The race between technology and the law could be termed as a hare and tortoise race - As technology gallops, the law tries to keep pace.”

What is geo-blocking?

‘Geo-blocking’ means blocking of content from country to country or from one region to another. If the content is geo-blocked, the same would still be available on the other global platforms but not on the platforms of the country where geo-blocking has been carried out. Thus, geo-blocking is partial blocking of content, information and data, restricted by territory.

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