Swami Ramdev and Ors v. Facebook Inc and Ors

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Swami Ramdev & Ors v. Facebook & Ors.
263 (2019) DLT 689
In the High Court of Delhi
CS (OS) 27/2019
Before Justice Pratibha M. Singh
Decided on October 23, 2019

Relevancy of the case: Global removal of defamatory content

Statutes & Provisions Involved

  • The Information Technology Act, 2000 (Section 79)

Relevant Facts of the Case

  1. The allegation of the plaintiffs is that various defamatory remarks and information including videos, based on a book titled ‘Godman to Tycoon: The Untold Story of Baba Ramdev’ are being disseminated over the defendants’ platforms.
  2. The plaintiffs submitted that the defamatory content contained in the said book was the subject matter of a judgment passed in CM(M) 556/2018, wherein a learned Single Judge of this court had restrained the publisher and author from publishing, distributing and selling the book without deleting the offending portions.
  3. The allegations contained in the videos, which have been uploaded on the defendants’ platforms are in fact the defamatory allegations contained in the book which have already been directed to be removed.
  4. The said judgment was challenged by the publisher before the Supreme Court and the same is pending. It is however submitted that there is no stay on the said order.
  5. The question as to whether the said URLs also deserve to be blocked globally would be heard on the next date.

Prominent arguments by Advocates

On behalf of the Plaintiffs, Advocate Darpan Wadhwa, learned Senior Counsel, submitted that if a defamatory article, book or any other content is printed or published, then the publisher of the same is liable for defamation. The defendants are seeking protection under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter ‘the Act’) on the ground that they are intermediaries. Since they claim that their role is that of passive intermediaries, they are bound to follow the due diligence required under the law.

  • As per the judgment in the landmark case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India AIR 2015 SC 1523, the phrase “actual knowledge” in Section 79 is a Court order, thus, once the Court passes an order, they are bound to disable the content globally and cannot raise objections to the geographical extent of implementation of the injunction.
  • He further submitted that if the defendants claim that they do not have an obligation to comply with the orders of the Court, then they are no longer entitled to safe harbour protection under Section 79 of the Act. He relied on the definitions of “computer resource”, “computer system”, “computer network” and “data” under Sections 2(1)(k), 2(1)(l), 2(1)(j) and 2(1)(o) respectively to submit that the Act does not provide that the blocking has to be restricted to the territory of India.
  • He further submits that an intermediary’s role cannot be to adjudicate as to whether the content is defamatory or not, but to remain passive and obey the orders of the Court. An intermediary cannot argue on behalf of the person who has uploaded the content. It is submitted that the harm that is being caused by continued accessibility to the content is irreparable to the plaintiffs, whereas there is neither any inconvenience nor harm caused to the defendants if they are to affect global blocking.

For Facebook, Advocate Parag Tripathi, Senior Counsel, submitted that no effort has been made by the plaintiffs to implead the persons whose details have been provided. He submitted that the question as to what constitutes defamation differs from country to country. Hence, passing an order for global removal of content would be contrary to the principle of comity of Courts and would result in a conflict of laws.

Final Decision

  1. The defendants are directed to take down, remove, block, restrict/disable access, on a global basis, to all such videos/weblinks/URLs in the list annexed to the plaint, which have been uploaded from IP addresses within India.
  2. Insofar as the URLs/links in the list annexed to the plaint which were uploaded from outside India are concerned, the defendants are directed to block access and disable them from being viewed in the Indian domain and ensure that users in India are unable to access the same.
  3. Upon the plaintiffs discovering that any further URLs contain defamatory/offending content as discussed in the present order, the plaintiffs shall notify the platforms, which shall then take down/block access to the said URLs either on a global basis or for the India domain, depending on from where the content has been uploaded.
  4. If the defendant platforms, upon receiving notice from the plaintiffs are of the opinion that the material/content is not defamatory or violative, they shall intimate the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs would seek their remedies in accordance with the law.

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