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Why Shouldn’t Google India Be Held Liable For Blogspot Content?

Alternatively, why shouldn’t access to Blogspot be banned in India?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for freedom of speech, but when a blog platform is used for publishing libelous content, someone needs to be held accountable; those being defamed need to have recourse to law that prevents such libel. Google India, in a case involving libel against a cardiologist and a journalist on a Blogspot blog, has claimed that they have “no connection with or responsibility towards Google Inc, USA”, they work as independent units and “Google India does not have control, operate or provide any local or other support for Google Inc’s services rendered on www.google.com.” Details of the case at DNA.

This is a surprising defense put forward by Google India, and in my opinion, an outcome that is fair to the plaintiffs is that, unless Google Inc reveals the identity of those publishing libelous content, Blogspot not be allowed to be delivered to India. It may sound like I’m suggesting throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but think of the situation as someone being defamed: what do you do? Who should the plaintiffs file complaints against, and if Google Inc isn’t represented in India, then who in India is liable for Blogspot content here? Does this mean that anyone can go and start libeling and breaking Indian law on Blogspot, or any other International platform, and if the company isn’t registered in India, then no one can do anything about it? The argument that you can flag content for being defamatory doesn’t stand, because just removing the content doesn’t provide remedy for the damage already done.

The larger question is: which laws govern content on the Internet? Laws of the country where it is being published from, or the country where it is consumed? Or both? The court may have granted Google India interim relief, but this doesn’t provide the plaintiffs justice. What about a site like WikiLeaks, which used to publish sensitive documents, making the identity of those submitting the document anonymous?

Update: there appears to be a perception that I’m against free speech. That is hardly the case. I’m just putting myself in the shoes of someone whose rights have been abused. You can’t turn around and say ‘sorry, we can’t do anything because even through it is distributed and monetized in India, it is out of our jurisdiction.’ I disagree with the choice of argument that Google India has made, and I welcome the debate, both in the comments here and on twitter. But I am not against free speech.

(Edits: replaced the word ‘slander’ with ‘libel’. Thanks for correcting @madmanweb)

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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