Justice Suresh Kait of the Delhi High Court rejected arguments by lawyers for 21 internet and tech companies, who said attempts to filter allegedly offending words and images from the internet were unwieldy and impractical.
Facebook and Google failure to win over India court sets the stage for a trial
NEW DELHI // Facebook, Google and other internet giants yesterday lost their efforts to avoid trial on charges of failing to screen material some Indians consider insulting to their leaders and major religious figures.
The ruling by Justice Suresh Kait of the Delhi High Court sets the stage for a major legal clash pitting the interests of Indians keen to enjoy unfettered use of the internet against the interests of those who feel the medium disseminates words and images that violate their cultural, political and religious sensitivities.
Justice Kait ordered the case to go to trial after rejecting arguments by lawyers for 21 internet and tech companies, who said attempts to filter allegedly offending words and images from the internet were unwieldy and impractical.
During the hearing, the judge likened internet companies to landlords, saying they were liable for the activities carried out in their place of business.
"Are you not a beneficiary of Google Inc's business? If some illegal activity is being carried out by a tenant and the landlord is a beneficiary, then how can the landlord not know what's happening?" the judge asked.
Earlier, Google's lawyer said his company's responsibility for what appeared on the internet was limited. "The offending material belongs to the website, controlled by the owner of the website. Google has nothing to do with it," Neeraj Kishan Kaul said.
Mr Kaul also said that demands to censor the internet faced practical obstacles.
"It's easy for people to say you can use filters," he said. "If we were to block the word 'sex', for instance, all data on ration cards, passports, etc will get blocked in one go, as the word 'sex' figures in all this data."
The case against the internet firms was brought by journalist Vinay Rai, who says internet sites in India display content that mocks Hinduism, Islam and Christianity and could incite communal violence. He has been trying to pressure the government for over a year to take his claims seriously.
The government's decision last week to support the lawsuit and allow the prosecution to go forward appears to be contradicted by India's own Information Technology Act 2008, which strictly limits the liability of internet companies for material posted on their site by the public.