Spicy IP has published a legal notice it received from the legal representatives of Times Publishing House Limited*, threatening to sue its blogger Aparajita Lath, a law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), regarding a post she wrote on February 12th 2013, which mostly summarized developments related to the dispute between Financial Times Ltd and the Times of India Group* over the “Financial Times” trademark.
If you read Lath’s post (here), you’ll notice that it’s almost entirely referencing external articles, but also points towards the costs incurred and the time taken (19 years) as a result of this legal battle, concluding that this sets a bad precedent for foreign media companies wanting to enter India; a statement which Times’ legal representatives call “false, incorrect, defamatory and in fact contrary to the facts of the case.” More in the notice here, which asks for an unconditional apology in writing, the “publishing of true and correct facts on your website”, and the removal of the article, failing which they shall initiate civil and criminal proceedings.
From a digital reportage (and blogging perspective), what is particularly worrying is the assertion (in the legal notice) that liability transfers to someone drawing inferences from reportage. The legal notice states:
“The impugned article, which refers to certain news articles published in the newspaper “The Mint” on various dates, which articles are also per-se incorrect, false, and defamatory. Consequently, any reporting based on the said Mint article would inevitably be an incorrect and defamatory publication.”
In my opinion, this is setting a dangerous precedent, because to assert that liability is transferable because of referencing (and its digital equivalent – linking) essentially breaks media, research and the fabric of the Internet. There are also serious freedom of speech concerns here. While this notice alleges defamation, with the IT Act and IT Rules, one can only expect an increase in takedown notices, and Times Publishing House could even send takedown notices to Blogspot, ISPs or domain registrars for getting this post taken down.
For its part, SpicyIP has responded to the notice, calling the notice “malevolent, hoping to intimidate us into a meek apology’, adding that Mint hasn’t received any notice and “We can only guess that you‟re averse to picking people your own size.” Ouch. Quite a read, the response. Delightful sarcasm throughout.
In the past, the Times of India group has also sent legal notices to ContentSutra** (no longer active) for publishing information related to Times Global Broadcasting’s fund raising plans (no copy on paidcontent.org, but we found a copy here). It had also sent legal notices, alleging defamation, to Pradyuman Maheshwari for his blog posts on the Mediaah! blog, back in 2005, following which the blog shut down. Maheshwari is now the founder of MxM India, an online publication***. Last year, MediaNama had received legal notices from the legal representatives of Monster India regarding the publication of its financials.
* Times Internet, a part of the Times of India group is an advertiser with MediaNama
** ContentSutra is my former employer
*** MxM India may have areas of overlap with MediaNama, hence may be seen as a competing publication