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Key Takeaways

  • Primarily, Information Technology Act, 2000 provides the basic legal framework for electronic transactions in India. Along with this Act, various rules notified under this Act play a significant role in regulating the digital space.
  • The rights of copyright owners cannot be restricted by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000. So, intermediaries who infringe copyrights of anyone cannot seek protection under this section.
  • Banyan Tree case Judgment is a Landmark for determining the jurisdiction of the court,where neither party to a suit, claiming online copyright infringement, resides within the territorial jurisdiction of such court.
  • Union Government notified Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021. But these Rules have been challenged by various organizations as being violative of Fundamental Rights.

Introduction

Information Technology Act, 2000 (hereinafter referred to as “IT Act) was enacted in India to provide legal recognition to transactions carried out through electronic mediums, and to facilitate the electronic filing of documents with the Government Agencies. It was enacted after the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the ‘Model Law on Electronic Commerce’ through a resolution. This Act was largely based on the Model Law that was adopted by the UN.In this article, I will discuss some Important Case Laws inIT Act, of 2000.

Important Case Laws on Information Technology Act, 2000

1. State of Tamil Nadu v. Dr. L Prakash (W.P.M.P.No. 10120 of 2002)

In this case, an FIR was registered against Dr. L Prakash under Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000 read with Section 4 & 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women Act, Section 27 of the Arms Act, and Sections 120B & 506 (2) of the IPC. The said case was registered as Dr. L Prakash was accused of making pornographic videos and then sending those to the US & France for publication on pornographic websites.

The Fast Track Court convicted the accused under the aforesaid provisions and sentenced him to undergo imprisonment for life. A fine of Rs. 1.27 lakh was also imposed on him.

This case is a landmark in the Cyber Crime Law as it was the first time that pornographic websites and their brokers were targeted in India.

2. Amar Singh v. Union of India [(2011) 4 AWC 3726 SC]

In this case, the petitioner had alleged that his calls were being tapped unauthorizedly by his telecom service provider. He had claimed that the alleged tapping was violating his fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. The service provider had argued that it was complying with the government orders. This case is important in the context of Sections 69, 69A, and 69B of the IT Act, 2000.

The court observed that a telecom service provider performs a function of public nature. It is his inherent duty to act carefully and in a responsible manner. Furthermore, it was observed that when the orders of the government ‘to tap calls’ have gross mistakes, then the service provider must verify the authenticity of such orders. The court also directed the Central Government to frame certain directions/guidelines to prevent unauthorized interception of calls.

3. Nirmaljit Singh Narula v. Indijobs at Hubpages.Com [CS (OS) 871 / 2012]

This case relates to an alleged defamatory article published by Defendant against the Petitioner (popularly known as ‘Nirmal Baba’). It is an important case in the context of Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000 since the petitioner had sent a legal notice to the intermediary, on whose website the ‘defamatory’ article was published. The intermediary refused to remove the ‘defamatory’ article, so the instant case was filed.

The court held that an intermediary is obliged to remove unlawful content from its website if it receives a notice from the affected party, claiming that any illegal content is being circulated through the intermediary’s service. An intermediary is not liable for 3rd party content if it removes such content upon receiving notice.

In this case, an injunction was issued against Defendant barring it from publishing any further defamatory content against the Petitioner, and the intermediary was ordered to produce the IP log of the 3rd party user who had published the ‘defamatory’ article.

4. Vyakti Vikas Kendra, India Public v. Jitender Bagga [CS (OS) No. 1340 / 2012]

It was also a case of online defamation. In this case, it was alleged that the defendants had published online some defamatory material against ‘Shri Ravi Shanker, owner of Art of Living Foundation’. The Petitioners had prayed for damages along with a mandatory & permanent injunction against the Defendants.

The Court observed that an intermediary is bound to comply with Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. These rules require that an intermediary must not allowthe publication of any defamatory or libelous information on its platform. So, in this case, the court passed an interim order in the favor of the petitioner.

5. Super Cassettes Industries Ltd. v. Myspace Inc. [CS (OS) No. 2682/2008]

The plaintiff approached the court as Defendant was allegedly infringing the copyright of the plaintiff. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s website generates revenue by making available infringing copies of copyrighted media to the public. It was also contended that the defendant encourages the users to share such type of content with the public.

One of the primary issues between the parties was – Whether the acts of the defendant as an intermediatory are protected under the provisions of Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000.

The court observed that the rights of copyright owners cannot be restricted by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000. The aforesaid Section does not save the defendants from liability in case of infringing acts due to the proviso of Section 81 of the IT Act.

6. Banyan Tree v. A. Murali Krishna Reddy & Anr, [2010 (42) PTC 361 (Del)]

In this case, the plaintiff had filed a suit claiming that the defendant was passing off its word mark ‘Banyan Tree’ through its online website. In this case, neither the plaintiff nor the Defendant was located within the local limits of Territorial Jurisdiction of the court (before which the suit was brought).

So, the court had to decide on the question that in what circumstances does the hosting of a universally accessible website by the Defendants gives jurisdiction to the forum court, if the Plaintiff is not carrying on business within the territorial jurisdiction of the forum court.

The court answered that for the purposes of a passing-off action, the plaintiff will have to show that the defendant has “purposefully availed” itself of the jurisdiction of the forum court.Further, it will have to be proved by the plaintiff that Defendant operated the website to conclude a commercial transaction with the website users. The plaintiff will also have to show that the operation of such a website resulted in injury to the Plaintiff in the forum state.

7. Writs challenging the validity of Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021

In 2021, the Union Government notified these rules by using its power under Section 87 of the IT Act, 2000. These rules supersede the Information Technology (Intermediaries Guidelines) Rules, 2011. With these rules, the Government seeks to regulate the Social Media intermediaries, the Digital news media, and the online streaming platforms.

These rules provide that the social media intermediaries need to follow an internal grievance redressal mechanism. These intermediaries are also required to share the information of the person, who originated an objectionable message in cases of serious offences, with the Government.

The rules provide that the Intermediaries who do not comply with the rules will lose the immunity available to them under Section 79 of the IT Act. Furthermore, the rules require the Digital News Media to follow a code of ethics and also set up an Internal grievance redressal system.

These rules have been challenged by various organizations including WhatsApp, The Quint, LiveLaw, and Foundation for Independent Journalists. The decisions in these cases will determine the further course of the jurisprudence in the field of Information Technology in India.

8. Shreya Singhal v. Union of India [AIR 2015 SC 1523]

In this case, the constitutionality of Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 was challenged. The petitioner contended that this section infringes their fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression. It was submitted that the restrictions imposed by the said section are not even saved or allowed by Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. Another primary contention put forward by the petitioner was that the said section suffers from the vice of vagueness because the terms used in the Section cannot be defined. So, that creates a wide scope for arbitrary and whimsical action by the State against a large number of innocent persons.It was also argued that the said Section violates the Right to Equality provided by Article 14 since the Section unreasonably differentiates between the people who use the internet and the people who use other mediums of communication.

Respondent, on the other hand, argued that the legislature is in the best position to understand the needs of the people. So, the court must not interfere in the legislative process until there is a clear violation of rights provided under Part III of the Constitution of India. It was submitted that the presumption is also in the favor of the constitutionality of a statute and that the mere possibility of abuse of a particular provision of a statute cannot be a valid ground to declare it invalid.

After hearing detailed arguments from both sides, the Hon’ble Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 in its entirety as being violative of Article 19 (1) (A). It is observed that the said Section is not saved under Article 19 (2).However, the court upheld the constitutional validity of Sections 69A and 79 of the IT Act, 2000 along with the IT (Procedure & Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009.

9. M/s Gujarat Petrosynthese Ltd &Anr.v. Union of India [2014 (1) Kar L J 121]

This case relates to a writ petition filed by the petitioner praying the court to issue a writ of mandamus directing the appointment of Chairperson to the Cyber Appellate Tribunal (CAT) by the Central Government. The petitioners submitted that due to the absence of the CAT Chairperson, their appeal was not being heard.They, further, submitted that the Government of India hadfailed to take necessary action to make the Cyber Appellate Tribunal operational.By relying on Section 49 of the IT Act, 2000, it was argued that the process of appointment of CAT chairperson must be initiated by the Central Government.

The counsel appearing for the Respondent submitted that the Government would take all the necessary actions for filling up the post of the Chairperson of the Cyber Appellate Tribunal within 6 months from the day of the submission. After hearing the parties, the Karnataka High Court observed that no direction needed to be issued, but it remarked that considering the delay of more than 2 years, the respondent must appoint the CAT Chairperson with a “sense of urgency”.

10. CBI v. Arif Azim (Sony Sambandh case) [(2008) 150 DLT 769]

In this case, the accused had stolen the credit card details of Barbara Campa. He then used that stolen card to purchase products from a website (sony-sambandh.com) owned by Sony India Private Limited. When the transaction was disputed by Barbara, the credit card company informed Sony about the same. So, Sony reportedthe case of Internet Fraud and Cheating to the CBI. CBI, on its part, initiated an investigation u/s 418, 419, and 420 of the IPC. The Court convicted the accused under the said Sections for the offence of cyber fraud. This case particularly relates to Section 66C of the IT Act, 2000, which covers the dishonest & fraudulent usage of electronic passwords, signatures,and other unique identification features of any person (Identity Theft).

11. State of Tamil Nadu v. Suhas Katti [CC No. 4680 of 2004]

In this case, a complaint was filed by the victim u/s 67 of the IT Act and Section 469 & 509 of the IPC, 1860. It was alleged that the accused posted obscene messages related to the victim in various groups with the intention to harass the woman. He also shared her phone number and created a fake account in her name to cause disrepute to her. The court convicted the accused under the aforementioned Sections. This case is a landmark since it inspired people around the country to come forward and file cases related to harassment on the Internet.

12. SMC Pneumatics (India) Pvt Ltd v.Jogesh Kwatra[CM APPL No. 33474 of 2016]

In this case, the defendant was an ex-employee of the plaintiff company. It was alleged that the defendant was sending defamatory, obscene, derogatory, and abusive emails to Plaintiff. The plaintiff submitted that the emails were intended to cause disrepute to its Managing Director. The accused was identified to be the sender of the emails after an investigation by a private computer expert. So, a suit seeking a perpetual injunction against the defendant was filed in the court.However, the said suit was dismissed by the court citing the lack of electronic evidence, linking the derogatory emails with the defendants.

13. Avnish Bajaj v. State (NCT) of Delhi[(2008) 150 DLT 769]

This petition was filed under Section 482, CrPC for getting annulled the criminal prosecution initiated against the Managing Director of a Company/Website (baazee.com) under Section 292 of the IPC and Section 67 of the IT Act, 2000. The Website provided an online marketplace for buyers and sellers to interact.The Petitioner argued that since the Website Company was not made an accused in the case, the petitioner could not be made liable with the aid of Section 85, IT Act. The respondent-State, on the other hand, argued that since the petitioner failed to ensure an adequate filter on its website for filtering obscene content, so, he cannot escape legal consequences. It was also submitted that the crime is grievous and must not go unpunished based on some technicalities.

The court observed that the IPC does not recognize the concept of an automatic criminal liability attaching to the director where the company is an accused. So, the petitioner was discharged from offences under the IPC. However, regarding the liability of the petitioner under Section 67 of the IT Act, the court observed that the law recognizes the deemed criminal liability of the directors even if the company is not arraigned as an accused in a case. So, it was held that the prosecution of the petitioner under Section 67 read with Section 85, IT Act will continue.

14. Christian Louboutin SAS v. Nakul Bajaj &Ors[(2018) 253 DLT 728]

One of the primary issues before the court, in this case, was whether Defendant was protected u/s 79 of the IT Actto use thePlaintiff’s trademark, images, and logos. The court observed that Defendant’s website (Darveys.com) exercised complete control over the products it sold and its role is much more than that of just an intermediary. To enjoy immunity u/s 79 of the IT Act, e-commerce websites must operate with care & caution. The basic thumb rule to claim exemption u/s 79 of the IT Act, is to ensure that the entity does not actively participate in the selling process.

15. Nasscom v. Ajay Sood & Ors. [119 (2005) DLT 596]

This is a case of Cheating by personation by using a computer resource under Section 66D, IT Act, 2000. In this case, the petitioner had prayed for a permanent injunction against the defendant, restraining him from sending “fraudulent Emails” under the trademark ‘NASSCOM” belonging to the petitioner. It was alleged that the defendants were posing as NASSCOM to obtain personal data from various addresses for head-hunting. The parties, later, on compromised and a consent decree was passed. This is a landmark judgment because the court declared ‘phishing’ on the internet to be an illegal act, against which an ‘injunction’ could be granted and damages could also be awarded. The court described ‘Phishing’ as a form of internet fraud where a person misrepresents the identity of a legitimate party (like a bank or an insurance company) to extract personal data from a user. It also deliberated upon the fact that there is no legislation in India dealing particularly with ‘phishing’.

16. Department of Electronics and Information Technology v. Star India Pvt. Ltd. [R.P. 131/2016 in FAO(OS) 57/2015]

This case dealt with the live telecast of cricket matches. The primary issue between the parties was regarding the extent of the ban that could be imposed on the website of a person infringing the trademark of another.The respondent pushed for a ‘domain’ ban, citing that it is relatively easy for ‘internet pirates’ to change the URLs of the infringing content as compared to the domain names. The court observed that the websites which are known to be rogue i.e., the ones that host “predominantly infringing content”, could be blocked completely, rather than resorting to URL blocking.The court described such websites to be ‘rogue’ that is hardly carrying on any lawful business and in their entirety/to a large extent are resorting to piracy.

17. Kent Systems Ltd. and Ors. v. Amit Kotak and Ors. 2017 (69) PTC 551 (Del)

In this case, the court observed that the IT Rules, do not oblige an intermediary to screen/remove all content/information hosted on its portal for infringement of rights of all persons who have complained to the intermediary at any point in time. The only obligation is to remove the infringing information/content upon receipt of a complaint from the Rights Holder. The court ultimately concluded that to require an intermediary to do compulsory screening of infringing content would amount to unreasonable interference with the right of the said intermediary to carry on its business.

18. Google India Pvt. Ltd. v. M/S Vishaka Industries Limited [Second Appeal No. 505 of 2016]

The basic facts of the case were that a person had published certain defamatory articles aimed at the Respondent and some politicians of the country, in a group hosted by Google (Appellant). The respondent had issued a notice to the Appellant to block the aforementioned defamatory content, but the appellant did not make any effort in that regard.Keeping that in regard, the High Court passed an order in the favor of the Respondent while observing that the Petitioner could not claim any exemption under Section 79 of the IT Act.

19. State v. Mohd. Afzal & Ors. [2003 (71) DRJ 178]

This is an important case concerning Section 2 (ha) of the IT Act, 2000 that defines ‘Communication Device’. It relates to the trial of the persons accused in the 2001 Parliament House Attack. It was argued by the accused that computers &digital evidence could not be regarded as reliable, as they could be easily tampered with. So, they claimed it to be unreliable for a criminal trial. The Court dismissed the contentions of the accused by observing that the misuse or tampering of the evidence has to be established by the challenger.Further, it was held that the theoretical and generic doubts could not be cast on the evidence of the prosecution.

20. Syed Asifuddin& Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Anr. [2005 Cr LJ 4314]

This case relates to the tampering of low-cost hand sets that were being handed out by the Reliance Infocomm, with a lock-in period of 3 years. The petitioners, in this case, were accused of an offence under section 65 of the IT Act, for allegedly tampering with the source code of the aforesaid Reliance Infocomm handsets to wean away customers from Reliance Infocommto TATA Indicom. The petitioners, in the instant petition, prayed for the quashing of the criminal investigation. However, the court observed that unless the investigation is shown to be illegal, it cannot ordinarily be quashed. So, the court refused to quash the investigation under section 65 of the IT Act, 2000 and directed the police to complete the investigation within a period of 3 months.

21. Dharamvir v. Central Bureau of Investigation [148 (2008) DLT 289]

This case primarily relates to ‘Electronic Record’ defined under section2 (t) of the IT Act, 2000. In this case, the main question before the court was that of the admissibility & reliability of the digital evidence in a legal proceeding. A CD was presented before the court that contained telephonic conversations copied from a hard disk.The court observed that the recording of the telephone call and the hard disks constitute electronic records that can be used as evidence.

22. P.R Transport Agency v. Union of India & Ors. [AIR 2006 All 23]

This case relates to Section 13 (5) of the IT Act, 2000. In this case, Bharat Coking Coal Ltd. held an e-auction for coal. The petitioner’s bid was accepted for a particular lot of coal and the letter of acceptance was issued by email to the petitioner. Later on, some conflict arose andthe allocation was canceled. So, petitioners approached the High Court of Allahabad. The Bharat Coking Ltd. put up an objection regarding the jurisdiction of the Court, contending that no part of the cause of action arose within Uttar Pradesh. The Court observed that since the acceptance was received at Varanasi (UP), it had the jurisdiction to entertain the case. Further, it was observed that for the purpose of Section 13 (5) of the IT Act, the place of business is relevant and not the location of the information system.

23. Umashankar Sivasubramanian v. ICICI Bank (Petition No. 2462 of 2008)

In this case, the petitioner received an email from ICICI Bank asking for his Internet Banking username and password. The petitioner replied to the email with the aforementioned details and later on found that he was defrauded of Rs. 6.46 Lakhs. So, he filed a complaint against ICICI Bank with the adjudicating authority for getting compensation. The Adjudicating Authority found ICICI Bank to be guilty of offences under section 85 read with Section 43 of the IT Act, 2000 and directed it to pay Rs. 12.85 lakh to the petitioner.

Conclusion

In this way, various courts around the country have interpreted the provisions of the IT Act, 2000 according to the facts and circumstances of the particular cases. Along with the provisions of the IT Act, the rules notified by the Government also play a significant role in regulating the digital space.With the rapid advent of technology, Cyber Laws are becoming more and more relevant. There is a need for these laws to keep evolving with the latest developments in Information Technology.


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