Thursday, February 2, 2012

Are Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Heading For A Trouble?

Companies like Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, etc facing a cyber battle in New Delhi, India. A criminal complaint against these companies is pending before a Trial Court of New Delhi. Obviously, these companies did what was best in their interest. They petitioned the Delhi High Court for quashing of criminal complaint against them.

Before the Delhi High Court, the respondent has placed it final arguments on 02-02-2012 and the petitioner would put its final arguments on 14-02-2012. Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court has dismissed a plea of a business man to hear him in this case for violation of his right to speech and expression. The Delhi High Court observed that till date neither the Trial Court nor the Delhi High Court has passed any order which curtailed the citizens' fundamental rights of freedom of speech and expression.

The Delhi High Court also observed that Google and Facebook do have the right to freedom of speech and expression but they are not above the law. There is no second opinion about this proposition as companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc must comply with Indian laws. Further, legal actions against foreign websites in India can be taken if they fail to comply with Indian laws. In fact, cyber litigations against foreign websites would increase a lot in India.

In fact companies like Twitter and Google have already taken steps to ensure compliance with Indian laws. Twitter has put in place a country specific mechanism to censor/remove offending tweets. Google has also started redirecting Indian bloggers to *** domains instead of *** domain. This method would allow Google to remove offending contents pertaining to *** alone once a valid legal request is made from a particular country or residents of that country.

Yahoo has separately approached Delhi High Court and requested for a separate trial as its case falls in a different category. The Delhi High Court has accepted the request of Yahoo and issued necessary notices in this regard.

Now the companies in question have two options. Either they declare that these laws are not binding upon them or they comply with the same. It seems companies are deliberately avoiding observance of Indian laws. This is an unacceptable behaviour that Indian government cannot afford to allow. It is not a case that only Indian government is feeling offended by non observance of Indian laws. Even private individuals and companies face problems when requests for removal of offending and intellectual property violating contents are made.

Another problem that Indian government must take care of pertains to conflict of laws. When laws of India are clearly violated, there is no sense in complying with laws of foreign jurisdictions, especially when the companies involved in such process also have sound business and commercial presence in India. India must develop an alternative mechanism to DMCA complaints to such India based subsidiary companies as well as their parent companies based in foreign jurisdictions.

These companies are openly violating the requirements of Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 without any legal justifications. These companies cannot use the subsidiary argument for long as Indian government would formulate more stringent norms for Indian subsidiaries dealing in information and communication technology (ICT) related matters.

This proposition is also reflected in the recent hearing of the Delhi High Court. Justice Suresh Kait observed that these companies are not above the law and their rights are to be determined under the laws of the land. He further observed that nobody is against the freedom of speech and expression. In fact, despite the summoning order against the websites, neither the Trial Court nor Delhi High Court has asked the websites to shut or restrain from functioning. They have only been summoned in accordance with the law as nobody is above it.

The next date of hearing before the Delhi High court would be on 14-02-2012 where these companies would put forward their final arguments. Let us hope that the Delhi High Court would deliver cyber justice to India.