Defamation case against Wikipedia
July 10, 2024

Why in news?

News agency Asian News International (ANI) has moved Delhi High Court against Wikipedia for allowing allegedly defamatory content on ANI’s wiki page.

What’s in today’s article?

  • Background of the case
  • The Safe Harbour Clause of IT Act
  • Various SC Judgements on the issue

Background of the case

  • Complain against Wikipedia
    • The petitioner had alleged that the said content is false and defamatory, and that its reputation was being tarnished and goodwill discredited.
    • It says that the editing history of the page shows that in April, a series of edits were made reflecting the true and factual position, but these were deliberately reversed in May to cause harm to the petitioner’s reputation.
    • Against this backdrop, the petitioner has sought damages to the tune of Rs 2 crore.
  • Suit against Wikipedia, not against an individual
    • Wikipedia, which started in 2001, itself does not produce the content for its online encyclopedia.
      • It is a collaborative, open source, nonprofit platform whose users contribute to the content of the website.
    • However, the suit was filed against Wikipedia, rather than the individuals who could have made the edits to the page.
    • This is because, this suit is intended to ensure enforcement by holding the intermediary liable.
  • Laws invoked in the case
    • ANI has argued that Wikipedia is a significant social media intermediary (SSMI) under the meaning of Section 2(1)(w) of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
      • SSMI is a social media platform with more than 5 million registered users in India.
      • The term was introduced in the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.
    • The petitioner has also relied on Sections 79(2)& (3) of the Act, which lay down the requirements for the “safe harbour clause” to come into effect.

The Safe Harbour Clause of IT Act

Section 79 of the IT Act deals safe harbour clause. Key points of the safe harbour clause include:

  • Immunity from Liability - Intermediaries are not liable for any third-party information, data, or communication link hosted on their platform, provided they meet specific conditions.
  • Conditions for Immunity
    • Non-Involvement: The intermediary should not initiate the transmission, select the receiver of the transmission, or modify the information contained in the transmission.
    • Compliance: The intermediary must comply with the due diligence requirements as prescribed by the central government. This includes adhering to the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code of 2021.
  • Grievance Redressal Mechanism
    • Intermediaries are required to establish a grievance redressal mechanism, appoint a resident grievance officer, a chief compliance officer, and a nodal contact person.
  • Action Upon Notice
    • The protection is not available if the intermediary, despite having actual knowledge or being notified by the government or its agency, fails to remove or disable access to the illegal content expeditiously.
  • Evidence Preservation
    • Intermediary should not tamper with any evidence of the content in question.
    • Section 79(3) of the act: The protection is void if the intermediary fails to remove or disable access to illegal content upon government notice or tampers with evidence of the content.
  • Loss of safe harbour status
    • Rule 7 of the IT Rules, 2021, further states that non-compliance with these rules results in the loss of safe harbour protection, exposing intermediaries to legal liability.

Various SC Judgements on the issue

  • SC in 2022 rejected petitions from Ayurvedic Medicine Manufacturers Organisation of India
    • All these petitions pertained to the online publication of an article published in 2001 that was allegedly defamatory.
    • The court suggested they could edit the Wikipedia article and use other legal options available.
  • Hewlett Packard India Sales vs. Commissioner of Customs(January 2023)
    • The apex court recognized that authorities often use Wikipedia for their decisions.
    • However, the court warned that while these platforms are useful for spreading knowledge, they are not always reliable for legal matters because they rely on user-generated content, which can be misleading.