Defamation is the act of intentionally attacking the personality of a person by false and malicious statements in such a way that it lowers or damages the reputation of that person in the eyes of the society or community to which he or she belongs. Traditionally, defamation is of two types: libel and slander. Defamation includes all defamatory statements that are published and would include newspaper articles, books or even a tweet, slander on the other hand constitutes all defamatory statements made by an individual. While Indian laws group libel and slander under the umbrella term “defamation”, they provide for two types of libel, civil libel and criminal libel. The remedy for civil libel, which is a tort, is damages, while criminal libel can only be punished by payment of fines and/or imprisonment under the Indian Penal Code 1860 We have, in a previous article, summarized the Indian position on defamation law.
With the proliferation of the internet, social media, and smartphones, the age-old adage “everyone is critical” has never been truer than it is today. While Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India grants all citizens of India freedom of speech and expression, this right is limited by reasonable restrictions which provide an exception for, among others , defamatory statements. Therefore, this guaranteed freedom of speech is correlated with a corresponding duty to publish speech and to exercise this right only when it does not affect the rights of others or violate any applicable law.
In the event that certain defamatory content is published, it is imperative to understand the rights associated with the publication, and when legal action can be brought against the publisher in such a scenario, especially given the changing nature of the speech, the widespread accessibility of public platforms through social media, and the democratization of information and expression through the Internet. The Delhi High Court on November 7, 2013, in the case of Khawar Butt versus Asif Nazir Mir and Ors. (CS(OS)290/2010), shed light on the above issue, particularly in the context of a defamatory post that was widely and generally available in the public domain for anyone to read. In the above case, the Court attempted to answer the following question: “whether leaving the allegedly defamatory material on the Internet or on a Facebook page gives rise to a new cause of action each time said offensive material is so left on the web page, which may be viewed by others at any time time, or if the cause of action does not arise until the offending material is first posted on the webpage/Internet.”
To answer the question of law, the Hon’ble Court noted that there was no Indian case law on the subject, particularly in the context of Internet publications, and therefore discussed in detail the situation of the law in foreign jurisdictions, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Previous law in the UK, for example, was based on the multiple publication rule whereby each time a statement is made, published or republished, an individual, separate and actionable defamatory statement is created, leading to the formation of a new cause. of action for each subsequent utterance. In accordance with the multiple publication rule, the limitation period for any action arising from such defamatory statements would begin from the date of the last publication of this statement, i.e. the last day on which it was consulted, allowing the person concerned to initiate proceedings years, or even decades, after the declaration was first published. The multiple posting rule has also been followed in other jurisdictions such as Australia and Canada. However, the United Kingdom, by enactment of the Defamation Act, 2013, statutorily overturned the common law rule of multiple publication which had been followed by its courts since 1849.
The Court then contrasted the multiple posting rule with the single posting rule, as contained in the Libel Act of 2013 and the statutes of the United States. According to the single publication rule, the publication of any book, periodical or newspaper containing defamatory material will give rise to a single cause of action for defamation and the statute of limitations thereof will begin from the date of first publication. defamatory material. , regardless of whether or not copies of it continue to circulate for years thereafter. Additionally, US courts have gone so far as to apply the single post rule to website postings, employing the rule to govern the modern and ever-changing means we use to communicate in the information age.
In the Khawar’s buttocks In this matter, the Delhi High Court held that the single publication rule, rather than the multiple publication rule, was more pragmatic and appropriate to follow. In its judgment, the Court concluded that:It is the policy of the law of limitation to prohibit recourse beyond the prescribed period. This legislative policy would be defeated if the mere continued presence of the defamatory material or article on the website were to give a continuing cause of action to the plaintiff to sue for libel/libel. Of course, if the defendant resorts to republication – with a view to reaching a different or wider part of the public with respect to the defamatory article or material, this would give rise to a new cause of action..” Therefore, the cause of action for a defamation suit would arise at the time of the first publication of the defamatory material and could only be renewed or revived if and when the offensive material is republished with the intention of attracting a wider audience. or different for the same.
Our right to freedom of speech and expression comes with certain caveats, one of which is an exception for publishing defamatory or slanderous statements. So, to quote another adage, with great power comes great responsibility. With the widespread, perpetual, and ubiquitous availability of the Internet, that power is more accessible today than ever. However, the degree of responsibility and caution with which this power must be used has never been greater. It is now clear that the cause of action for a defamation action will only arise at the time of first publication (unless republished by defendants), and will continue, under entry 75 of the schedule to the Limitation Act 1963, for a period of one year from the date of publication in case of defamation. And while the internet certainly proves that indeed everyone can be a critic, perhaps at the great cost of infringing on the rights of others or drawing the institution of certain actions against them, everyone shouldn’t be.