Legal Consequences of Online Defamation in India

 

Cyberspace is a term used for computer network where the communication takes place through electronic medium. When two or more computers are connected together then this creates the space for communication which is known as cyberspace. The crime done on the internet or committed by using computer is known as cyber crime.

Online defamation is also a cyber crime. Defamation means harming the reputation of a person in the eyes of third person and this can be done by words of mouth, written words, by signs or by visible representations of anything which harms the reputation of the person. The defamatory statement can lower the reputation of the person in eyes of public it may be caused intentionally or unintentionally. Defamation done in cyber world is known as cyber defamation it is a new concept, in cyber defamation the defamation is done through new medium or we can say virtual medium but the definition of traditional defamation is also applicable to cyber defamation. Cyber defamation is also known as online defamation.

In online defamation internet or computer is use to publish any defamatory material to harm the reputation of any person. If someone sends an email to other person which contain defamatory material or publish anything on website by which the reputation of a person get injured then this would amount to cyber or online defamation. Cyber defamation not merely affects the welfare of a community but as a whole. This type of defamation also affects the economy of country depending on the victim against whom the defamatory statement is published and also depends on the information which is published.

CATEGORIES OF ONLINE DEFAMATION:

The cases falling under the online defamation have two main categories, these are –

  1. The person who primarily publishes the defamatory material in cyber space is liable for online defamation like authors of Email and content provider of website. They are the primary publisher who create the defamatory material and publish it on cyber world for the purpose of online defamation.
  2. The internet service provider is liable for online defamation cases and bulletin board operator is also liable for it because they have to check the content before it is being available in public.

MEDIUMS OF ONLINE DEFAMATION:

There are various medium by which the online defamation is committed these are –

  • Social Networking website
  • Email
  • Any Website
  • Forum sites
  • Any discussion group

OFFENCES OF ONLINE DEFAMATION:

There are many types of offences which come under the online defamation these are –

Ridicule any person on cyberspace: When a person ridicule another person or group by message, post, comment etc and even like and share such post on any social networking website then he done very serious offence and could get in trouble. Ridiculing anyone could be illegal under the following laws:

  1. Defamation – Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code
  2. Sending offensive electronic messages – Section 66A of the Information Technology Act

1) Ridicule a Minister: When a person ridicule a Minister or Government official by message, post, comment etc and even like and share such post on facebook he done a very serious offence and could get in trouble. Ridiculing a Government official or Minister on Facebook could be illegal under the following laws:

  1. Sedition – Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code
  2. Defamation – Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code
  3. Sending offensive electronic messages – Section 66A of the Information Technology Act

2) Tagging on obscene photo:  When any person tagged his friend or anyone on an obscene photo with or without wrong intension by which the person who is tagged on that photo losing his reputation can file the case against the person who tagged him. Tagging on that offensive photo is equal to sending offensive message on web. This comes under –

  1. Sending offensive electronic messages – Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
  2. Defamation – Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code

3) Using abusive words: The use of abusive language on cyberspace is serious offence and even uses of asterisk marks in place of abusive words in any post, message or in comment is also a crime the person losing his reputation because of the abusive words used by other person on cyberspace. This offence is punishable under the following law:

  1. Sending offensive electronic messages – Section 66A of the Information Technology Act.
  2. Defamation – Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code

4) Sending threatening message: When any person sends a threatening message to anyone on any social networking website or through email by which that person have to lose his reputation in the eyes of public it is also a serious offence under following law:

  1. Threatening message comes under sending offensive electronic messages – Section 66A of the Information Technology Act
  2. Criminal intimidation – Section 503 of Indian Penal Code

5) Creating false document: When any false document or fake account is creating for the purpose of harming the reputation of someone then this offence is punishable under:

  1. Forgery for purpose of harming reputation – Section 469 of Indian Penal Code

PROVISIONS FOR ONLINE DEFAMATION:

There are many provisions for online defamation it depends on offence that what type of offence is done by the offender and as we already discuss above about the types of offences of online defamation. Every offence of online defamation is not similar it depends on how much harm it give to the victim. So in India there are various provisions for online defamation depending upon the loss. The statutory provisions governing online defamation in India are as follows –

Section 66A of Information Technology Act, 2000:

This section is not particularly deals with online defamation but it deals with the punishment of sending offensive messages on cyberspace. The section 66A of IT Act says that –

  • Any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
  • Any content information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,
  • Any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.[1]

 Section 499 of Indian Penal Code, 1860:

This section purely deals with defamation in real world and with menace of cyber defamation. The section 499 of IPC says that –

  • Whoever, by words either spoken or intended to be read, or by signs or by visible representations, makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person intending to harm, or knowing or having reason to believe that such imputation will harm, the reputation of such person, is said, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
  • The law of defamation under Section 499 got extended to “Speech” and “Documents” in electronic form with the enactment of the Information Technology Act, 2000.[2]

Section 500 of Indian Penal Code, 1860:

This section deals with the punishment of defamation (section 499 of Indian Penal Code). The section 500 of IPC says that –

  • Whoever defames another shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.[3]

Section 503 of Indian Penal Code, 1860:

This section deals with the criminal intimidation. This section covers the offences done by use of computer devices through emails, posting messaging, commenting etc for intimidating the reputation and for threatening anyone. The section 503 of Indian Penal Code says that –

  • Whoever, threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of any one in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threats, commits criminal intimidation.[4]

 Section 506 of Indian Penal Code, 1860:

This section deals with the punishment for criminal intimidation (section 503 of Indian Penal Code). The section 506 of IPC says that –

  • Whoever commits the offence of criminal intimidation shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.[5]

Section 469 of Indian Penal Code, 1860

This section deals with the forgery, in this if anyone creates false document or fake account by which it harms the reputation of a person then this offence comes under this section. Section 469 of Indian Penal code says that –

  • Whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to be used for that purpose shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine[6].

Section 124A Indian Penal Code, 1860:

This section deals with the sedition, in this when anyone ridicules a Minister or Government official in cyberspace or in any other place then this offence come under this section. This section says that –

  • Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.[7]

CONCLUSION:

Cyberspace is a place where people spend their most of the time. It is very good to share anything but some people use it with wrong purpose like they are sending anything which injures the reputation of other people, this is known as online defamation. Online defamation comes under cybercrime. There are many laws for this type of offence but people have to know these laws and think twice for what they are posting, there post may not be a defamatory material for someone which harms reputation of others in the eye of general public. So according to me there must be a system to make aware the people by which they learn what to do and what not to do in cyberspace

[1] Information Technology Act, 2000

[2] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[3] Ibid

[4] Indian Penal Code, 1860

[5] ibid

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

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