Google’s appeal against the dismissal of a petition filed in the Andhra High Court over a defamation court got a hearing in the Supreme Court today. The defamation case was slapped against the search giant in 2009 by Visaka Industries, a construction company that manufactures asbestos cement sheets in Hyderabad. In the lawsuit Visaka Industries alleges that an activist spread false rumours about the company using Google’s Blogspot blogging platform.

According to a report in the Economic Times, an organisation called the Ban Asbestos Network India (BANI) posted a blog that specifically spoke about Visaka and how it uses political clout to clear regulatory hurdles. Visaka filed for defamation and in 2011, Google India challenged these charges in the Andhra High Court on the grounds that it cannot be held responsible for content posted by users, but lost the case. Google then appealed to the Supreme Court, once again maintaining that it cannot monitor all third-party content that goes up on blogs powered by Blogspot.

The blog post in question was written in July 2008 by Gopal Krishna, the convenor of BANI, and the Visaka has named Krishna in its lawsuit and also claims that Google is responsible as it hosts the blog on its servers. If the verdict goes against Google, it could set a precedent that will have deep ramifications on how the Internet works in India. Prashant Mali, president of Cyber Law Consulting (Advocates & Attorneys), told the business daily “the outcome of the case will affect all search engines, social media sites, blogs, online retailers and news sites to some extent.” 

If the court rules against Google, it could change how user-generated content is maintained by companies who provide a platform for it in India. Expectedly, Google is said to be preparing for a big fight and could urge the US government to exert pressure on the Indian government to protect US business interests. “People may not even roll out new products” in India, if the verdict is against Google, an executive at a global technology firm told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s not worth the effort of investing.

More ominously, it will be “liable for criminal activities on its network” and will have to monitor more thoroughly all content that goes up from India, cyberlaw expert Pavan Duggal told WSJ. “Exercising of due diligence is a critical aspect for limiting liability of intermediaries.” In addition, those managers handling the Blogspot division at the time could be punished with imprisonment, and may be fined ranging from Rs 1 lakh to 10 lakh, and may also be asked to pay damages of up to Rs 5 crore per violation.

Publish date: January 27, 2014 7:46 pm| Modified date: January 27, 2014 7:46 pm

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