Defamation in Cyberspace

By Aishwarya Ganesan

In the era of the Cyber World, the Internet provides Individuals an equal opportunity to access data/ information; and with the high usage of technology, misuse of the cyberspace amplified. As the uses and applications of the technology develop, understanding of the technology grows.

With the growth in the extensive usage of social media, cyberspace has provided Individuals around the globe a wide platform to express their views. But should this electronic media be an arena to disrepute anyone?

ELEMENTS OF DEFAMATION

  • Plaintiff to prove publication of the defamatory statement, and that it refers to the Plaintiff
  • Prove that the Statement is defamatory
  • The said statement must be false and untrue and must be made with malicious intent

 

However if the statement is true and is made in Good faith and in Public interest, it fails from being a defamatory statement.

The Indian Penal Code solely talks of defamation.

Section 499 IPC: Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter expected, to defame that person. Explanation 2.— It may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.

Section 500 lays down the punishment in such cases:

Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term, which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

Can a company be held responsible for its employees’ actions? The test that determines this is whether the actions were suited to the benefits of the company, the employee would be held vicariously liable if he were promoting his own interests. India is not yet a signatory to the Council of Europe’s Convention on Cyber Crime, formulated by the EU, globally; around 43 nations have signed this treaty addressing the issues of cross-border terrorism.

Asia’s first cyber Defamation case was filed in India, in the case of SMC Numatics Ltd. v. Jogesh Kwatra. Defamatory e-mails were said to be sent by the defendant to the top management of SMC Numatics, who has, since been retrained from communicating with the Plaintiff. This order of the Delhi High Court holds extensive significance since it was the first time an Indian Court recognised the issue of Cyber defamation, and took action against it.

Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000: If any person sends by means of a computer resource or a communication any content which is grossly offensive or has a menacing character or which is not true but is sent to create nuisance, annoyance, criminal intimidation, hatred or ill will etc shall be imprisoned for an imprisonment term which may be up to two years combined with a fine. This section has been struck down; however a few other sections have been amended and added to curb issues relating to Cyber Defamation.

Section 68(A) has been proposed for providing modes and methods for encryption for secure use of the electronic medium. This principle has been proposed for safer usage of the electronic medium. Section 69, has been amended to take care of the concerns of the Ministry of Home Affairs regarding the safety, sovereignty and integrity of India and further preventing stimulation to the commission of any cognizable offence. This provision relates to the authority/power to issue instructions for interception or monitoring or decryption of any information through any computer resource, which stands rightfully amended.

Section 67 of the Act is amended to diminish the term of imprisonment for publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form to three years from five years and there is an increase in the fine thereof from Indian Rupees 100,000 (approximately USD 2000) to Indian Rupees 500,000 (approximately USD 10,000). A series of new sections have been inserted as Sections 67 A to 67C. While Sections 67 A and B insert penal provisions with respect of offenses of publishing or broadcasting of material containing sexually explicit act and child pornography in electronic form, section 67C deals with the obligation of an intermediary to preserve and retain such information as may be specified for such duration and in such manner and format as the central government may prescribe.

Today appreciation of the need for legislation and what is required in terms of its structure and content has changed

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