Defamation is defined in Section 499 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) as, 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 to defame that person. Similarly, any such act or statement when published on the internet leads to Cyber Defamation or online defamation.
The term Cyber Defamation simply means, publishing any false statement about any individual on social platform or in cyberspace that can injure the reputation of that individual. In India, defamation can be contemplated in both, criminal as well as civil ofoff
The growth of the internet in recent times has given everyone to express their opinion on social media in the form of publication. Although, Cyber Defamation is a new concept but according to the law, Defamation is an injury caused to the reputation of a person in the eyes of a third person, and this kind of injury can be done by verbal, written, communication or through signs and visible representations.
Essentials of defamation are:
- The statement must refer to the plaintiff,
- The intention must be to lower the reputation of the person or plaintiff against whom the statement has been made, and
- The statement made must be false.
On the other hand, Cyber defamation involves defaming a person through all new and far more effective method which is modern electronic device such as phone, laptops etc. It refers to the publishing of defamatory material against any person on a social platform or in cyberspace. It is effective as it brings down the reputation of the plaintiff in a very short period. If a person publishes any kind of defamatory statement against any other person on a website or sends e-mails containing defamatory statements or materials to that person to whom the statement has been made would amount to Cyber defamation.
LIABILITY IN CYBER DEFAMATION
As we have discussed above that in India, a person can be made liable for defamation both under civil and criminal law.
INDIAN PENAL CODE
- Section 500 of IPC provides the punishment wherein “any person held liable under section 499 will be punishable with imprisonment of two years or fine or both.”
- Section 469 of IPC deals with forgery. If anyone creates with a intention of defaming someone creates a false document or fake account by which it harms the reputation of the plaintiff. The punishment of this offence can extend up to 3 years and fine.
- Section 503 of IPC deals with the offence of criminal intimidation by use of electronic means to damage one’s reputation in society.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ACT, 2000
Section 66A, IT Act, 2000 –
This section defines the punishment for sending ‘offensive’ messages through a computer, mobile or tablet. But, the government did not clarify the word offensive. The government started using it as a tool to repress freedom of speech. Therefore in 2015, the whole section was quashed by the Supreme Court in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India
If a person has been defamed in cyberspace, he can make a complaint to the cyber – crime investigation cell. It is a unit of the Crime Investigation Department.
INDIAN EVIDENCE ACT
As per section 65A and 65B of the Indian Evidence Act –
- Any electronic record printed on a paper or recorded or copied in optical or magnetic media shall be considered as a document and shall be admissible by court.
- Online chats are also admissible.
- Electronic mails are also admissible.
In the case of SMC Ltd. V. Jogesh Kwatra, some statements were sent by the employee to the employers and other subsidiaries of the company, and they have been restrained by Delhi High Court from carrying any kind of communication to the plaintiff. This order of Delhi High Court was presumed to be of great significance as it was the first time that an Indian court assumes the jurisdiction in a case of cyber defamation and grants an ex-parte injunction restraining the defendant from defaming the plaintiff by disallowing him to send any derogatory, abusive and obscene emails to the plaintiff. Further, the employer was not held vicariously liable as the defendant was not acting as a part of his employment and was off on a frolic of his own.
WHERE AND WHEN TO LODGE A COMPLAINT
Any individual aggrieved of cyber defamation can lodge a complaint to the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell at the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal. However, it can also be noted that, filing a cyber defamation complaint can also bring the reputation of the complainant on the line. Further, the burden of proving that he/she has been defamed lies entirely with the complainant and if he/she is unable to do so, the defendant shall have right to sue for defamation, false and frivolous complain, and damages thereto.
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO IMPROVE CYBER DEFAMATION
It is recommended to have an independent cyber-crime investigation cell which is under the CBI and it needs to be set up on its own so that it comes directly under the central government and also specifically deal with cyber-crimes including CYBER DEFAMATION. There can also be a cyber cell police stations in every district of every part of India headed by Investigation officers who are well versed with cyber laws so that it will help them to handle the offenders promptly. Also, government can take a duty or responsibility to aware the citizens of India about cyber-crimes by conducting various programs and also about the precautions that should be taken to protect themselves.
In this, judiciary can also play a significant role by establishing special cyber courts and judges with specialized technical knowledge may preside over these courts. So, there is a need to train judicial officers, police personnel to settle cases of cyber-crime expeditiously and more effectively. Information and communication technology keeps on changing, and people need to get updated with its development. So, we need to amend existing laws to keep pace with technology and prevent such offences happening and affecting people at large.
The intense volume of information and an easy way of transferring it on the Internet makes it a critical source of defamation. After researching on the aforesaid topic, it can be said that the present scenario of India regarding laws do not have an adequate approach towards cases of cyber defamation. Also, defamation laws should be sufficiently flexible to be applied to all media. As the defamation laws in the era of the Internet, it becomes practically impossible to apply the principle of 18th and 19th-century cases to the issue arising on the Internet in the 21st century.
Author: Shivam Bansal,
Symbiosis law School, Noida - 2nd Year