The judgement of the Single Bench of the Delhi High Court deals with the evergreen issue of illegal and rampant distribution of news on social media platforms and the liability of the administrator of the groups as well as the social media platforms themselves.
Brief Facts of the Case
The Plaintiff i.e. Jagran Prakashan Limited, publishes a leading Hindi newspaper named Dainik Jagran, in both physical as well as digital format, which is accessible for free at its website www.jagran.com. Further, there is a paid subscription of the same as well, known as the e-paper. However, the digital format of the paper available on the website cannot be downloaded and as per the terms and conditions, the users are barred from downloading any content of the website. The Plaintiff is also the owner of the trade mark “Dainik Jagran” and its variant in several classes.
The Defendant No. 1, i.e. Telegram FZ LLC, is a Dubai based company which provides cloud based instant messaging and voice over IP service. The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant No. 1 grants access and permission to the users of the application, without disclosing the identity of such users, to create various channels. The Defendant No. 2, i.e. users of Defendant No. 1, have created the following channels IDs: t.me/dainkjagran, t.me/dainikjagranhindi, t.me/dainikjagran_jnm, t.me/dainikjagranpdf, t.me/dainik_jagran, t.me/dainikjagran, t.me/DJagran, t.me/Dainik_Jagran_pdf, t.me/Fainik_Jagran_News, t.me/dainikja.
The Plaintiff submitted that PDF formats of its e-papers are being uploaded on these channels daily. Further, not only the current editions of the e-paper, but subscribers can also download all the previous editions of the e-paper, which are only available to the paid subscribers of the Plaintiff.
Further, the Plaintiff averred that since the Defendant No. 1, through Defendant No. 2, was indulging into reproducing, adopting, distributing, transmitting and disseminating the e-paper, which resulted in financial loss as well as infringed the trade mark and copyright of the Plaintiff, the Plaintiff issued a notice and sent three subsequent reminders to the Defendant No. 1, to which the Defendant No. 1 did not respond. Thus, the Plaintiff filed the suit before the Court.
The Plaintiff also placed reliance on Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, read with Rule 3 sub-rule 4 of the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011 and contended that since the Defendant No. 1 had failed to exercise due diligence and despite constant reminders, had failed to pull down the channels within 36 hours, the Defendant No. 1 cannot escape from its liability on the ground that it is an intermediary.
The Court, vide its order dated May 29, 2020, noted that the Plaintiff has made out a prima facie case in its favour and the balance of convenience also lies in favour of the Plaintiff. Thus, the Court granted an ad-interim injunction as per Order 39 Rule 1 & 2 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 in favour of the Plaintiff and against the Defendants and directed the Defendant No. 1 to take down or block the channels which are infringing the rights of the Plaintiff. Further, the Court also directed the Defendant No. 1 to disclose the basic subscriber information or identity of the users or owners of the channels who have been impleaded as Defendant No. 2.
The present uncertain times of the pandemic call for stricter measures regarding the liability of the administrators of online group and calls for more stringent checks on content posted on social media. Circulation of e-papers as well as dissemination of fake news on social media platforms are some of the most debatable issues in India presently. Thus, the welcome order in the present case by Justice Mukta Gupta is at a very critical time and aims to curb this vexing activity as well as protect the commercial rights of Media Houses. The present case is a step taken in the right direction by Jagran Prakashan Limited and it will be interesting to see the approach of the Courts as well as Media Houses in future similar cases