India’s Top Court Reaffirms Content Immunity for Internet Firms in Google Case

By Upmanyu Trivedi | December 10, 2019

Alphabet Inc.’s Google isn’t liable for defamatory content posted on its platforms after 2009, India’s top court ruled, reaffirming immunity for Internet companies in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The verdict, which reiterates a 2015 ruling, comes as a relief for social media companies, online retailers and service providers who are facing increasing pressure from the Indian government to regulate online content. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government plans to bring rules to regulate social media platforms and a law on data privacy that seek to levy heavy fines on companies in the event of violations.

However, the top court ruled that Google India Pvt. Ltd. will have to face defamation charges in cases lodged before 2009, when India’s information technology laws were amended to provide online and social media service providers immunity for content posted by a third party. They will have to take down content only after a court order.

“Any other view would make it a despot strangling the free flow of ideas, which is what the internet is all about,” Justices Ashok Bhushan and K.M. Joseph of the top court said in the verdict.

The case originated in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh when a construction material company Visakha Industries Ltd. sued Google for a blog post against use and manufacture of asbestos cement sheets. Google appealed to the country’s top court after the state high court ruled against it. However, Google will still face the defamation charges because Visakha’s case was lodged before the 2009 amendment.

Google maintained that content is neither published nor endorsed by the company and it is just a platform provider.

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