DEFAMATION (Syllabus: GS Paper 2 – Polity)

News-CRUX-10     10th July 2024        

Context: News agency Asian News International (ANI) has moved Delhi High Court against Wikipedia for allowing allegedly defamatory content on ANI’s wiki page.


  • Definition: Any false statement published or spoken deliberately, intentionally, knowingly with the intention to damage someone’s reputation.
  • Categorisation: Defamation is categorised into two types libel and slander. 
  • Types: Defamation is an offence under both the civil and criminal law.

Previous rulings of SC:

  • Ayurvedic Medicine Manufacturers Organisation of India: The Supreme Court rejected petitions and advising them to edit the content and seek legal remedies.
  • Hewlett Packard India Sales vs. Commissioner of Customs: Justices Vikram Nath and Surya Kant highlighted concerns over adjudicating authorities relying on Wikipedia for legal conclusions, cautioning against its use due to potential inaccuracies and user-generated content.

Laws Invoked in the Case

  • Section 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000: It defines an intermediary as “any person who on behalf of another person receives, stores or transmits that record or provides any service with respect to that record and includes telecom service providers, network service providers, Internet service providers, web-hosting service providers, search engines, online payment sites, online-auction sites, online-market places and cyber cafes”.
  • Sections 79(2) and (3) of the IT Act: The petitioner has relied on Sections 79(2) and (3) of the Act, which lay down the requirements for the “safe harbour clause” to come into effect.
  • Section 79 of the IT Act: It states that an intermediary shall not be held legally or otherwise liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link made available or hosted on its platform.
  • Conditions for Safe Harbour Protection: It is applicable if the intermediary does not initiate the transmission, select the receiver, or modify any information in the transmission, according to Section 79(2)(b).
  • Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code: Another requirement for safe harbour protection is adherence to the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which came into force in 2021. 
  • Section 79(3): It states that the protection will not apply if the intermediary does not immediately remove or disable access to the material in question after being informed by the government or its agencies.
  • Rule 7 of the IT Rules, 2021: It states that if “an intermediary fails to observe these rules, the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 79 of the Act shall not be applicable”, and “the intermediary shall be liable for punishment under any law for the time being in force”.
  • Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act: It is analogous to Section 79 of the IT Act, states that “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider”.
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