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Court Watch: Tech Policy Cases India’s Courts Are Hearing this December

In December, India’s courts are set to hear several important cases on online gaming, copyright, privacy free speech and more.

As the year draws to an end, we round up the biggest tech policy cases India’s courts will be deciding on. 

Got a case you think we should cover? Did a recent tech policy judgment impact your business? What more can we do to make our legal coverage less Delhi-centric? Send in your inputs to aarathi@medianama.com. 

Regulating platforms and businesses

December 7th, southern states defend their bans on ‘online gambling’: Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have moved the Supreme Court asking it to review previous verdicts striking down their bans on online gambling (which included non-gambling games). Not helping Tamil Nadu’s case here: this challenge is related to a ban it brought in 2021, which was struck down as unconstitutional by the Madras High Court later in the year. Since then, it brought another ban along very similar lines to 2021’s—the Madras High Court once again struck down the ban on non-gambling games a few weeks ago!

  • Case number: C.A. 6124-6131/2023 and SLP(C) 19981-19988/2021.

December 14th, are the online gaming rules constitutional?: The Delhi High Court will hear a Uttar Pradesh-based NGO’s challenge against the Indian government’s online gaming rules. During recent hearings, the Indian government doubled down on its legitimacy to regulate the sector. 

  • Case number: WP (C) 8946/2023.

December 15th*, a big moment for online gam(bl)ing: In another ‘gambling’ case of note, the Supreme Court will hear tax authorities’ challenges to the Karnataka High Court striking down a Rs. 21,000 crore tax evasion notice issued to online real money gaming major Gameskraft. The authorities claim that the platform dodged liabilities for offering ‘gambling’ games, like online rummy played for stakes, a stance the southern court disagreed with. The catch that may impact the Supreme Court’s review of the verdict: the GST Council recently held that any online game played for stakes should be taxed at par with gambling. 

  • Case number: SLP(C) 19366-19369/2023.

December 15th, Paypal seeks review over its operating status: In July, the Delhi High Court ruled that PayPal was a “payment system operator” and a “reporting entity” under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, and had to comply with specific stringent obligations. Paypal challenged the verdict at the Delhi High Court once again. Why? Because the Court had recently separately ruled that Google Pay isn’t a payment system operator, and is simply a third-party UPI app. And PayPal thinks that that’s relevant enough to overturn the PMLA verdict.. The case has moved slowly since.

  • Case numbers: LPA 594/2023; CM 42770/2023; CM 42771/2023; CM 42772/2023/ CM 42773/2023.

December 18th, are OTT platforms television channels too?: A few weeks ago, the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal held that OTT platforms are prima facie not a television channel as described under India’s telecom laws. The case revolved around Star India charging users to access its television channels, but allowing customers to download its OTT platform and watch Star Sports for free. The tribunal refused to restrain Star India from continuing to do so. 

  • Case numbers: Broadcasting Petition 217/2023 with Miscellaneous Application 236/2023.

Free Speech and Expression

December 1st, The fact check amendment verdict is finally here: The Bombay High Court is all set to pronounce its ruling on the constitutionality of a government-appointed body empowered to fact check “fake, false, or misleading” government-related information online. Across months of hearings earlier this year, critics remained concerned that the Indian government may use the unit to become the judge, jury, and executioner of what constitutes the “truth” online. The amendment may also impact India’s all-important safe harbour laws. 

  • Case numbers: WP (L) 9792/2023 (Kamra); WP (L) 14955/2023 (Editors Guild of India); IA 17704 in WP(L) 14955/2023 (News Broadcast and Digital Association); WP 7953/2023 (Association of Indian Magazines).

December 6th, Tamil Nadu’s fact check unit faces a constitutional challenge: The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Joint IT Secretary R. Nirmal Kumar’s Madras High Court petition claims that the state’s proposed government-appointed fact check unit is unconstitutional, and will hurt free speech rights of citizens and members of the opposition. The Court will wait for the Bombay High Court’s verdict on the Indian government’s similarly positioned fact check unit before taking a call. 

  • Unable to procure a copy of the petition as of publishing. This piece will be updated once received. 

Privacy matters

December 5th, the Tripura High Court’s intervention to protect privacy on WhatsApp: A few weeks ago, the Tripura High Court stayed a lower court’s order directing WhatsApp to disclose the first originator of a message circulating on the state’s Chief Minister. The High Court observed that the lower court hadn’t sufficiently established what threats to “public order” the message posed before issuing the notice to WhatsApp.

  • Case number: WP (Crl) 2/2023. 

December 6th, discussing search and seizure powers at the Supreme Court: A petition filed at the top court last year challenged the seizure of electronic devices during arrests and investigations. Filed by a group of media professionals, the petition argued that the police’s wide powers here disadvantage journalists, academics, and more, by violating their rights to privacy, and against self-incrimination, among others. The petitioners have since submitted guidelines to the Court informing law enforcement agencies on how evidence can be safely and proportionately collected. 

  • Case number: WP (Crl) 395/2022.

Copyright concerns

December 1st, Neetu Singh’s crusade against Telegram: Singh challenged the messaging app over its unauthorised hosting of her copyrighted educational materials a few years ago. Last year, Justice Pratibha Singh ordered the app to hand over user data on the accused, scoffing at its arguments that it couldn’t do so due to jurisdictional issues. The Delhi High Court will continue hearing this saga come December 1st. 

  • Case number: CS(COMM) 282/2020.

December 6th, Allen exam prep isn’t amused with Telegram either: Telegram is also facing the heat in a challenge from exam prep giant Allen. Similar to Singh, Allen’s coaching materials have been floating around Telegram groups for free 

  • Case number: CS(COMM) 505/2020.

December 8th, Bennett Coleman v WhatsApp at the Delhi High Court: It’s not just Telegram that’s under the cosh for hosting copyrighted content without permissions. WhatsApp is facing a similar challenge from newspaper giant Bennett Coleman before the Delhi High Court too. The company was aggrieved by free copies of e-papers being made available on the messaging app. 

  • Case number: CS(COMM) 232/2021 & I.A. 6565/2021, I.A. 10456/2021.

December 11th, pirates and academic publishers face off: The Delhi High Court will continue hearing the long-drawn challenge against pirate website, filed by a host of academic publishers claiming copyright violations. 

  • Case number: CS (COMM) 572/2020.

*This date has been auto-generated by the Supreme Court of India and is subject to revision. 

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