Defamation Dispute in Cyber Space: Ban Asbestos India v. Network Service Provider

The Supreme Court of India delivered a significant ruling in the case of Ban Asbestos India v. Network Service Provider, addressing a defamation dispute in cyber space. The case revolves around defamatory articles targeting the reputation of the complainant, with allegations of dissemination without due care. Stay tuned to understand the legal nuances of intermediary liability and publication in the digital age. #SupremeCourtIndia #DefamationLaw #CyberSpace


  • The accused posted defamatory articles about the complainant in cyber space.
  • The articles targeted the complainant’s reputation and were filled with hatred.
  • The service provider, accused No.2, allowed dissemination of defamatory statements without due care.
  • The cause of action for the complainant arose on specific dates in 2008 when the articles were published.
  • Jurisdiction was claimed due to the location of the complainant’s corporate office.
  • The accused No.1 was the Coordinator of Ban Asbestos India, a group hosted by accused No.2.
  • No exemption of criminal law for a company as a juristic person found guilty
  • Network Service Provider exempted from liability only if offense was committed without knowledge or with due diligence to prevent it
  • Plaintiffs’ summons to strike out defense claiming they were not publishers of internet posting

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  • The main issue to be determined is whether the appellant can be held responsible for the defamatory material posted by the first accused on the platform provided by the appellant.
  • The test to be applied is whether the appellant’s failure to remove the defamatory content implies responsibility for its presence on the platform.
  • The key question is whether the offence alleged in the complaint was committed or not, taking into account all the facts of the case.
  • It is important to consider if the material presented by the accused has not been disproved by the prosecution/complainant and if it is irrefutable by them.
  • The next step involves assessing if the material presented by the accused contradicts the charges leveled against them and if it can be deemed sufficient to reject the factual basis of the accusations.
  • Further evaluation is needed to determine if proceeding with the trial would lead to an abuse of the court’s process and fail to serve the ends of justice.

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  • The appellant is the second accused in the criminal complaint filed by the complainant.
  • The appellant filed a petition under Section 482 of the Cr.PC seeking to quash the order summoning the appellant based on the complaint invoking Sections 120B, 500, and 501 of the IPC.
  • The complaint alleges that the appellant is the intermediary hosting Google Groups, which is disputed by the appellant’s counsel.
  • The complainant insists that the appellant cannot disown its role in Google Groups, while the appellant argues it does not provide services on Google Groups.
  • The legal notice issued did not contain specific URLs, making the notice invalid.
  • The appellant forwarded the notice to Google LLC, the entity that owns Google Groups, who requested specific URLs for the alleged defamatory content.
  • The Memorandum of Association suggests the appellant’s main objects include providing network-related products or services.
  • There are factual disputes regarding the appellant’s role in hosting Google Groups, whether it is an intermediary, and the relationship between the appellant and Google LLC.
  • The appellant disputes the authenticity of documents submitted by the complainant, citing non-compliance with Section 65B of The Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  • The Magistrate has the discretion to proceed without using Section 202 of the Cr.PC after examining the complainant.
  • The complainant alleges that users of Google provide personal data as consideration for digital space, which is used for generating advertising revenues.
  • The complaint was filed in a court outside the appellant’s office locations, but no proof of prejudice has been provided.
  • The respondent argues that the appellant’s office locations do not align with the court’s territorial jurisdiction where the complaint was filed.
  • The appellant argues that no provisions of the Act are invoked, rendering the complaint invalid.
  • No complaint is made against the actual intermediary, Google LLC.
  • The appellant claims that in the digital platform context, intermediaries like Google LLC do not exercise editorial control over content.
  • Mere hosting of content is deemed insufficient to attribute knowledge or publication.
  • The appellant cannot be attributed with actual knowledge without a court order or government agency notification.
  • The High Court is said to have overlooked that Google LLC had control over the Google Groups platform.
  • The appellant emphasizes the adverse impact on freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(A) of the Constitution of India.
  • Reliance is placed on various judicial decisions to support the argument that the offence of defamation is not made out.
  • The terms of service indicate that services are provided by Google LLC and not the appellant.
  • The appellant is seen as a non-exclusive reseller of Google LLC Ads program in India.
  • Section 79 of the IT Act is emphasized to protect intermediaries until they have actual knowledge.
  • The appellant contends that the Act has created a distinct category of ‘originator’ not extended protection under Section 79 of the IT Act.

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  • The Court considered the issue of publication in the context of defamation.
  • Publication is a question of fact and depends on the circumstances of each case.
  • Analogies to postal services and telephone carriers were considered regarding intermediary liability.
  • The Court discussed the role of intermediaries in facilitating communications over the internet.
  • The judgment referenced various legal provisions and previous cases to establish the liability of intermediaries in publication.
  • The Court examined the concept of publication concerning defamatory imputations communicated to parties beyond those involved.
  • Section 79 of the Information Technology Act provides protection to intermediaries from liability in certain cases.
  • The intermediary shall not be liable for any third-party information hosted or transmitted through their communication system.
  • To qualify for exemption from liability, the intermediary’s function must be limited to providing access to third-party information and they must observe due diligence.
  • Regulations may specify actions required by website operators in response to complaints, including time limits for removal of content.
  • The notice of complaint must specify the complainant’s name, the defamatory statement, where it was posted, and other relevant information.
  • The Act has special provisions for electronic records, and Section 79 prevails over inconsistent laws.
  • Regulations must be followed for due diligence, including prompt action upon notification of objectionable content.
  • Defamatory content is addressed under Section 79, and intermediaries are required to act swiftly upon receiving complaints.
  • The law exempts intermediaries from liability if they can prove lack of knowledge or due diligence in preventing unlawful activities.
  • Intermediaries must remove or disable access to unlawful material promptly upon notification by relevant authorities.
  • High Court findings regarding alleged refusal of appellant to respond to notice set aside.
  • Appellant’s contention that High Court should have acted on Google LLC conditions rejected.
  • It is held that the appellant is not the intermediary and this matter should be decided at trial.
  • Section 79 of the Act, prior to its substitution, did not protect an intermediary in regard to the offence under Section 499/500 of the IPC.
  • After nearly a decade of the matter pending, it would be unjust to remand the matter back to the Magistrate.
  • Court will decide the matter based on materials placed before it and observations in this judgment.
  • Contentions of the parties are left open except those already pronounced upon.


  • The appeal has been disposed of.
  • The Magistrate is instructed to proceed with the complaint.
  • Subject to the above instructions, further actions should be taken.


Case Number: Crl.A. No.-001987-001987 / 2014

Click here to read/download original judgement

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