A Trial Court in India has asked Ministry of  Home Affairs to serve summons to executives of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, Orkut and Blogspot, asking them to appear in person or through their counsels on September 22nd 2012, reports Dow Jones Newswires. While the report doesn’t name the executives, it does mention that India and the US are signatories to an international treaty for mutual legal assistance, which requires summons to companies or individuals facing criminal charges to be sent through diplomatic channels.

This is the latest in the case in which Vinay Rai, a senior journalist and editor of Akbari, an Urdu weekly, filed the case last year in December against 21 websites and claimed that content on the websites owned by the companies encouraged defamation, obscenity, and promotion of enmity among different religious and race groups.

Why Is This Happening?

Well, because Google and Facebook have argued that Google India and Facebook India are not responsible for any content on their platforms. I remember Google India arguing in the Delhi High Court that their Indian operations is just a subsidiary for sales, and have little or nothing to do with content and search results provided by the core business owned by Google Inc.

When a complaint has been filed, the court can’t put its hands up and say that it can’t do anything. This leaves it with two options:

– Firstly it can issue summons to the executives of the companies responsible for the content – Google Inc, Facebook Inc etc, and hold these companies responsible for the content. Which it has done.
– Secondly, it can order that these websites be blocked in India because they are operating in India, but not looking to be governed by Indian law. Which it probably will do if these companies don’t represent themselves in court.

At the core of this issue is the issue of whether these businesses are governed by the laws of where their company is registered, where it is hosted, or where its services are delivered, and while these companies may have bought themselves some time through these tactics, I don’t think it’s really going to help. Better to argue on the basis of law and the facts of the case, than to argue jurisdiction or claim that you’re not responsible.

(with inputs from Apurva Chaudhary)