Defamation laws in India

Submitted by asandil on 5/2/2023

Introduction

A quick internet search on defamation reveals that it includes any form of action intended to harm or create injury to a person’s good name. However, when viewed through the prism of Indian law, the term “defamation” has both justifications and exceptions linked to its definition. Knowing the laws controlling the statutorily recognized offense of defamation is essential if one wants to uphold their dignity, which is protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Defamation has become a more contentious topic as a result of how frequently it has been used as a tool to restrict free speech in modern society. The requirement for progressive thinking in light of the shifting needs of Indian society is what is necessary in this regard. This article seeks to examine the legal implications of defamation in India, the related judicial landscape, and its future.

What is Defamation?

For an offense to be proven, the accused person must have produced or spread the offensive material. While the term “creating” usually relates to authorship, it is also possible to be held liable for deliberately or knowingly duplicating or copying defamatory material (for example, with intent). If malicious intent cannot be established, a person who is not the author or publisher may assert that the defamatory text was released accidentally. A person’s interest in their reputation is protected by defamation law. To ensure that public leaders cannot utilize defamatory acts to avoid being held accountable for their conduct and public responsibilities, it has undergone major reform.

Defamation

Defamation Law in India:

As per Article 19, the Constitution grants its citizens a number of liberties. The reasonable exemption to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) has been imposed by Article 19(2). Among the exceptions are defamation, incitement to commit a crime, and contempt of court.

A violation of both civil and criminal law, defamation. Defamation is criminal under the Law of Torts in civil law, and the victim may be given damages as compensation. Defamation in criminal law is compoundable, unrecognizable, and bailable. Thus, the police officer can only use an arrest warrant issued by a magistrate. The offense is punishable by up to two years of simple imprisonment, a fine, or both, according to the Indian Penal Code.

Civil Defamation:

Such claims must be unfounded and made with no prior agreement of the prospective victim of libel. The defendant may be held liable for financial damages for defamation. A number of standards should be met when filing a lawsuit for defamation. As follows:

  • There must be a defamatory statement present. Defamatory material shall aim at damaging the reputation of any individual or group of individuals by exposing them to hostility, scorn, and ridicule. In order to assess whether any harm has been done to reputation, it is necessary to ascertain from the viewpoint of a common man and his understanding of the issue.
  • The statements must also refer to a specific individual or group of individuals. Generalizations like “politicians are corrupt” are overly general and cannot be used to benefit any one politician.
  • It has to be released verbally or in writing. Defamation cannot occur until the material is made available to a third party. The recipient needs a third party to read letters to him when they are received in a language, he is not familiar with. Even though it was delivered as a private letter and a third party was required to read it, if a defamatory statement is stated in it, it will still be considered slander.

Once each of these requirements has been met, a successful defamation lawsuit is established. The defendant may argue one or more of the following defenses:

  • The statement published was true;
  • Fair comments made with public interest based on true happenings;
  • Some people are vested with the privilege to make statements, even if they are defamatory.

Such as in judicial proceedings and among members of parliament. The case is won if the defendant is unable to provide evidence to support their actions.

Criminal Defamation:

Defamation is the only crime in which a sentence of simple imprisonment can be imposed. The intent to slander is required in legal proceedings. The claim must be based on a deliberate intention to harm another person, or at the very least, it must be known that the publication is likely to harm another person. If it had been intended to harm another’s reputation, the motivation of the act would have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code 1860 defines defamation and its derogations. Words or indications that are attributed with malice aforethought or with the awareness that such attribution will result in malice. If they would have damaged their reputation if they were still alive, any accusations made against a deceased person could be considered defamation. Companies or associations must be included in the group of people. If the alleged defamatory statement does not, directly or indirectly, diminish the respect others have for his caste, his profession, or his moral character, then it is not defamation.

Exceptions:

If a person who makes defamatory words fits under one of the ten exceptions listed in Section 499, they are excused from punishment. As follows:

  • Any truth attributable to the public good. Truth is rarely a defense unless it is used for the benefit of the community.
  • Any honest assessment of how a public servant is acting while carrying out his official duties.
  • Any honest judgment of someone’s actions that is relevant to a public issue.
  • Publishing accurate accounts of court proceedings or the outcome of those proceedings is not defamation.
  • Any honest assessment of the strengths or weaknesses of any civil or criminal case decided by the Court of Justice, or the actions of any party, witness, or agent in that case, and only in that case.
  • If expressed in good faith, opinions on a performance’s quality that its creator has left up to the public’s judgment or about the author are not considered defamatory.
  • Censures issued by people who do not have authority over another person, whether that authority comes from the law, a valid contract made in good faith, or any other source. A formal expression of strong displeasure is censure.
  • A good-faith accusation of offense made to someone who has legal authority over the alleged individual is an exemption from the defamation rule. Examples of exceptions include youngsters complaining to parents and bosses about their servants.
  • If a statement is made to advance the interests of the speaker, another person, or the greater welfare of society, it does not constitute defamation of character.
  • Warnings issued to one person against another are not considered defamation if they are given with the intention of promoting the interests of the communicated person, another, or the general welfare.

If defamation does not fit under the aforementioned exceptions, it is punishable by simple imprisonment for a maximum of two years, a fine, or both under Section 500 of the Code. The sale of printed or engraved materials that contain defamatory information about any person or the act of printing or engraving material that is known to be defamatory are both punishable under the Indian Penal Code in the same ways that defamation is.

Cyber defamation in India.

Cyberdefamation refers to the circulation of false information on another person via a computer and the internet, in general. Cyber-defamation happens when someone fabricates information about another person and uploads it online or sends fraudulent emails to other people with the aim of harming the victim. Since the content is public and easily accessible to everyone, the harm done to a person by making a defamatory statement about them on a website is severe and irreparable.

Because of accessibility, anonymity, privacy, and the isolation of one’s own place, internet users are far less constrained than they once were, especially when it comes to the content of their messages. Memes and Illustrators about various celebrities are frequently circulated on Facebook and various other social media pages. Because of the internet, it’s easy for people to spread misleading information to a global audience. Nowadays, anyone can publish anything online, making it possible to target specific people with libelous content.

A defamatory charge must be disclosed to one person in order for publishing to be proven. Due to the potential for the internet to reach an infinite number of users, offensive content that is shared on Facebook or forwarded to other recipients is published again and spreads further, giving rise to new grounds for action. Therefore, libel is on the rise in cyberspace. There is no doubt that in cyberspace there will always be a John Doe injunction. Difficulties in identifying the culprit and determining whether Internet service providers are to be responsible for encouraging defamatory conduct contribute to this problem.

Cyber defamation laws in India

In India, libel is a crime that can result in both civil and criminal penalties. The Indian Penal Code, 1860s Section 499, which deals with defamation, is expanded to include incidents of cyberdefamation. However, a recent amendment to the Information Technology Act of 2000 resulted in an explicit ban on cyber-defamation in India.

  1. According to Section 66A of the Information Technology Act of 2000, it is unlawful for anyone to send anything through a computer resource or a communication tool if it contains:

    • Content that is flagrantly defamatory or obscene;
    • False information is repeatedly disseminated through a computer resource or a communication tool with the intent to annoy, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, cause harm, criminally intimidate or sow animosity, hatred, or ill will.
    • Up to three years in prison and a fine are possible penalties for sending any electronic mail or electronic mail message with the intent to annoy or inconvenience the addressee or recipient, to deceive the addressee or recipient, or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages.
  2. ISPs are exempt from liability under Section 79 of the Information Technology Act of 2000 for any information, data, or communication link they provide or maintain on behalf of a third party, provided that:

    • Their role is limited to merely granting access to the communications infrastructure;
    • They do not:
    • Start the transmission;
    • Select the transmission’s receiver, and
    • Select or modify the information contained in the message.
    • They exercise due diligence in their work and adhere to any restrictions that may be established.
  3. However, the following situations make ISPs liable:

  • If they assisted in the commission of the crime or were complicit in it;
  • If they become aware of or receive notification from the relevant government agency that certain information, data, or communication links are being used to commit crimes without tampering with the evidence, they must immediately remove or disable access to those information, data, or communication links.

The intriguing difference between the commonwealth countries’ legal systems and the IT Act of 2000 is that it has some legal elements in common with American laws regulating cyber defamation. Under the new amendment it is easier for defendants to demonstrate their innocence where they have acted with due diligence and fulfilled their obligations laid down in Sections 79 of the Act and Rules 3 of the IT Regulations 2011 provided that they do so. The burden of proof is not altered, however, between the complainant and the defendant. ISPs are frequently named defendants in defamation lawsuits despite the fact that they are not legally responsible for publishing and disseminating defamatory information. The reason behind this is their higher financial capabilities.

Conclusion

While being misused and exploited by some while having a profoundly devastating impact on the lives of others, the concept of defamation is perplexing and continues to be contentious. There are still certain fundamental constitutional considerations about both the criminal offense and the civil offense of defamation that have not yet been resolved, even though judicial precedent has attempted to sort through this muddle and address some issues. There should be a coexistence between defamation laws and the right to freedom of expression. The first and the second should not be sacrificed to each other. Rather than a strict legal framework, legislators should be promoting flexible rules that will allow for rapid changes in how people perceive what they are experiencing today as defamation.