Case Summary and Outcome
On 20th April 2023, the Delhi High Court (“the Court”) directed Google LLC to curb the dissemination of certain YouTube videos relating to the minor plaintiff, Aaradhya Bachchan (the daughter of well-known Indian celebrities) which showcased the plaintiff in a misleading light, including as critically ill and dead, and used morphing technologies to lend colour to these claims. The interim order also directed a prohibition on the dissemination of any other similar videos, which are not a party to the present suit, or any relevant future media. In the order, the court considered the plaintiff’s right to privacy and the child’s interest and observed that the “dissemination of misleading information relating to a child, especially as regards her physical or mental wellbeing, is something which is completely intolerable in law” [p. 2]. The case is listed for further judgment.
The plaintiff, Aaradhya Bachchan, is the daughter of well-known Indian celebrities Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Bachchan and the granddaughter of Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bachchan. The plaintiff alleged that despite being a healthy school-going child, some videos were circulated on YouTube which claimed that she was critically ill or dead, including videos which used morphed pictures and depicted the plaintiff surrounded by wreaths. Claiming that this is a violation of the plaintiff’s right to privacy and intellectual property rights (including copyright in the images and pictures), the plaintiffs approached the court.
Justice C. Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court delivered the decision. The primary issue for consideration before the bench was whether the intermediary, in the present case Google LLC, had any liability to proactively take down such content posted on its YouTube platform under the relevant law.
Arguments before the Court
The plaintiffs argued that such conduct violated the right to privacy and intellectual property rights of the plaintiff. The plaintiffs emphasized that the intermediaries could not be passive spectators in such cases, and should be proactive in swiftly and promptly dealing with such cases. The plaintiffs submitted that Google’s inaction violated Rule 3(1)(b)(iii) of the amended Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 (“IT Media Ethics Rules, 2021”), which, inter alia, provides that intermediaries must make reasonable efforts to caution the user of its computer resource not to host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share any information that is harmful to a child. Further, the plaintiff also claimed a violation of Rule 4(4) of the IT Media Ethics Rules, 2021, which provides for additional due diligence on “significant social media intermediaries” (YouTube is identified to fall into this classification), including mandating such intermediaries to “endeavour to deploy technology-based measures, including automated tools or other mechanisms…any information that has previously been removed or access which has been disabled on the computer resource of such intermediary….”
It was accordingly argued that the amended rules require the concerned intermediary to “make reasonable efforts”, wherein it cannot claim to be a passive spectator.
Google LLC contended before the Court that it had no control over the content of the videos posted on its YouTube platform since these were not screened by it prior to their posting. Further, it was argued that while YouTube had strict policies and mechanisms to address exceptional cases like child pornography, the only available recourse for other objectionable content was to report it to the intermediary, which would then take action to remove the offending materials. The court summarily rejected these submissions.
The Court’s observations
While the Court allowed the present plaint to be registered as suits and called for the issuing of summons, the Court, in the interim, makes several important observations.
It emphatically remarks that the “dissemination of misleading information relating to a child, especially as regards her physical or mental wellbeing, is something which is completely intolerable in law. No technicalities can come in the way of the Court stepping in, where such attempts are brought to its notice.” [p. 2-3]. Further, although the Court did not examine whether Google had taken all reasonable efforts or not in the present order, it observed that there is a prima facie case in favour of the plaintiffs and an ad interim relief is justified.
Accordingly, the Court, inter alia, issued the following directions [p. 10]:
- The Court restrained the defendants from disseminating or further transmitting the videos relating to the 25 URLs mentioned in the court order.
- The Court restrained the defendants from creating, publishing, uploading, sharing, or disseminating any identical videos that had similar content. The court restrained the defendants from uploading, sharing, or disseminating any content, on any public platform available across the internet, relating to the state of health or the physical condition of the plaintiff.
- The Court directed Google LLC to disclose, to the plaintiffs, the defendant’s identity and all contact details [including their Basic Subscriber Information (BSI), name, email IDs, and IP address].
- The Court directed Google LLC to delist and deactivate all the videos forming the subject matter of the concerned URLs.
- The Court directed Google LLC to immediately take down URLs related to the physical health and well-being of the plaintiff whenever brought to their notice by the plaintiff.
- The Court directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to block access to the above mentioned contents, uploaded by the defendants as well as to any other similar videos or clips containing similar contents, on the plaintiffs bringing it to their notice.