Indian Citizen Pursuing Lawsuit Against Companies that Host 'Offensive Content'

By Jacqueline Lee February 22, 2012

20 companies including Google, Facebook and Yahoo have been sued for hosting offensive material online in India.

The lawsuit comes after Indian government officials have publicly discouraged any material that may offend either politicians or Muslims. However, the Indian government has stopped short of using the word “censorship.” Instead, Telecoms Minister Kapil Sibal claims that the Web has to follow the same rules as members of the press. “We do believe that all media must obey the laws of this country.”

Yahoo has applied to be dismissed from the lawsuit, claiming that it offers no social media functionality and should therefore be exempt. A Yahoo spokesperson decried the lawsuit as a “complete abuse of the process of law.” The suit was brought by Vinay Rai, the editor of Akbari, which is the largest weekly newspaper in India. The suit against the companies, which was filed in a lower court, objects to allegedly offensive images of Gods and Goddesses being posted online.

Google’s lawyer, NK Kaul, wondered aloud in court why India’s government has become involved in the case. “We are curious as to why the Union of India has become a party to a case between private parties,” Kaul commented before a packed courtroom. “It might be a case of malafide intention, which we leave to the judgment of the Honorable Court.”

Indian law requires parties to remove offensive content within 36 hours of being notified by the government. Representatives from Google and Facebook supposedly sat down with government representatives and were personally told that the content had to be deleted. Naveen Sharma, the senior counsel for the state of Delhi, noted that the content negatively portrayed many Indian people and their religious beliefs. “The government has all rights to intervene. The government called the representatives of these Internet companies in October 2011, and asked them to remove the content. But they did not comply.”

India has the third largest Internet user base in the world. The lawsuit may have far reaching consequences for a country that thrives on user-generated content. Thus far, Google has pulled some content from their search services, YouTube and Blogger in compliance with a court order issued in early February. Facebook and Yahoo declined to comment on the court order.

Edited by Jamie Epstein

Contributing Writer

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