Defamation and IT Act

The accessibility of internet to common man has changed everyone’s lives. The platform provided by the internet has made human interaction easier than ever before. However, such increase in convenience of communication has proportionally increased the inconvenience caused by the abuse of the mediums of communication. Removing barriers to freedom of interaction, has given unfettered capabilities, primarily on social networking sites, to people who post unnecessary and false statements about a person or an entity and thereby harming their goodwill and reputation. Such an act, though colloquially known as “trolls”, actually amounts to cyber defamation. 

In India, Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code primarily governs the law on defamation, however, it is pertinent to note that the law has been extended to “electronic documents”. Section 469 of the IPC (forgery for purpose of harming reputation) has been amended by the Information Technology Act, 2000 to include ‘electronic record forged’ and now reads as a whole as – whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to be used for that purpose, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, and shall also be liable to fine.


Section 66A of Information & Technology Act 2000 (IT Act), was quashed by the Supreme Court of India in Shreya Singhal v Union of India [(2015) 5 SCC 1] due to ambiguity in the definition of the word ‘offensive’ in the Section. The section stated that sending any offensive message to a computer or any other communication device would be an offence. Such unfettered power, under section 66A, was misused by the Government in curtailing and suppressing people’s freedom of speech and expression and hence repealed. Further, the Supreme Court of India invalidated Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000 in its entirety. The Court held that the prohibition against the dissemination of information by means of a computer resource or a communication device intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or insult did not fall within any reasonable exceptions to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. 

As this section was first time used to block a site in the case of defamation in the Delhi High Court case of E2labs v. [‘The Utilitarian Critique of E2 Labs v Zone-H’ (ILTB, 28 April 2010)], in this case the remedy sought was shutting down of a website which allegedly hosted some defamatory content but as the defendant was a foreigner and he did not respond to the notices of the court thus the court passed an interim order to block the website which was not challenged and the website permanently remained closed. This case created a notion that section 66A can be used for defamatory matters posted online and thus 66A is not restricted to the Constitutional Rights under Article 19(1)(a). This section penalises for sending offensive and false message through electronic communication services and internet, including emails and social networking sites which has imprisonment up to three years of jail and penalty. The best example for this can be the arrest on demeaning comments on Facebook post of Bal-Thackeray and Tweets against Chidambaram's son. (Twitter and Facebook).

In the first case of cyber defamation in India, SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt. Ltd. v. Jogesh Kwatra, the reputation of a corporate was being defamed by an employee of the plaintiff company by sending derogatory, defamatory, obscene, emails obscene, vulgar, filthy and abusive emails to its employers and also to different subsidiaries of the said company all over the world with the aim to defame the company and its Managing Director. The Hon'ble Judge of the Delhi High Court passed an ex-prate ad interim injunction observing that a prima facie case had been made out by the plaintiff. Consequently, the Delhi High Court restrained the defendant from sending derogatory, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, humiliating and abusive emails either to the plaintiffs or to its sister subsidiaries all over the world including their Managing Directors and their Sales and Marketing departments. Further, Hon'ble Judge also restrained the defendant from publishing, transmitting or causing to be published any information in the actual world as also in cyberspace which is derogatory or defamatory or abusive of the plaintiffs.

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