SC hearing on Google appeal in defamation suit today
An appeal in the SC by Google against an Andhra Pradesh HC’s dismissal of its petition in a 2009 defamation case comes up for another hearing on Monday.
The original lawsuit was brought against Google by Visaka Industries, a Secunderabad-based asbestos cement sheets manufacturer that claimed an organisation called the Ban Asbestos Network India posted a blog that was specifically defamatory to the manufacturer, using Google’s blogging service.
Visaka named Gopal Krishna, the convenor of BANI for his July 2008 blogpost in its lawsuit and claimed Google too was liable as the blog was hosted on its network.
While this latest hearing, the eighth listing, according to the Supreme Court’s website, will likely be one of many more to come, “the outcome of the case will affect all search engines, social media sites, blogs, online retailers and news sites to some extent,” said Prashant Mali, president of Cyber Law Consulting (Advocates & Attorneys).
Google, an internet giant, faces allegations of privacy violations in various jurisdictions of various countries across the world, Mali said.
The company, best known for the eponymous internet search engine that commands a lion’s share of online searches by most users, also censors the results of those searches in several countries, including India, according to the Centre for Internet and Society.
Mali added, “I feel if the Supreme Court feels blogs are equivalent to media or press and vent out expressions which are democratic and constitutionally valid, then as it held that the freedom of press and freedom of expression a constitutional right it may hold the same.”
If the eventual judgement goes in favour of Google “it should go with riders, proper checks and balances should be place,” he said. Google will fight with its all might, which could include diplomatic pressure as the US could expect to exert pressure on the Indian government to protect the interests of US businesses.
“It would be a test of (India’s) judicial independence too,” Mali said.
Google’s petition to throw out the Vikasa lawsuit on grounds that it did no more than provide a network service and a plat-form where third parties uploaded their own content didn’t find favour in the Andhra High Court, which dismissed the petition in 2011.
Google then appealed in the Supreme Court the same year.
In his blogpost, Gopal Krishna alleged that Visaka enjoyed political patronage at the highest level, which allowed it to profit from making products from asbestos, a known cancer-causing substance. While asbestos is banned in over 50 countries, India is a large importer of asbestos for its applications in cheap roofing and piping.