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Virtual realities / Issue 102

Legally India newsletter
Legally India newsletter

The law playing catch-up with fast-moving technology and failing is almost a cliché.

In many countries it is similarly common for law makers to try and finish the arms race with laws that leapfrog technology as well as common sense and constitutions.

New rules created by India’s IT Ministry in April have now joined that club. The IT Act’s Intermediaries Guidelines Rules, while creating limited safe harbour provisions for online publishers, have also virtually enabled anyone to block anything online that is “disparaging”, among other things.

It was unsurprising that an Indian law firm lawyer was apparently one of the first to test these rules. More surprising was that the rules were tested on Legally India to block publication of an article on a subject already in the public domain.

After Legally India was injuncted ex parte for five weeks from publishing practically anything about the lawyer the case was withdrawn last Friday.

Read the full story on the Legally India gagging order here, which suggests that besides the an obvious unworkability of the rules, an infrastructure of checks, balances and adequate bandwidth is lacking.

In the meantime the rules remain on the books and pose a threat that is no longer theoretical to India’s budding online publishing space.

And it is not as though there are not enough remedies available under existing laws or a lack of courts willing to grant them.

One Indian educational institution this week used good old defamation to injunct publication of an article via the Assam District Court against a magazine, the publisher Penguin and, somewhat curiously, Google.

Effective regulation of offline and online content in a democracy has to protect legitimate interests, reputations as well as freedom of speech.

Drafting myopic laws that lack a minimum of market understanding fails on all counts.

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