Defamation may be defined as “making of false, derogatory statement in private or public about a person’s business practices, character, financial status, morals, or reputation. Susan H. April, a renowned jurist from the US says that , “Essence of defamation is injury to a person’s reputation and good name. The mere fact that a person does not like the way an article portays him does not entitle him to damages. Rather, a defamatory communication, in its classic definition, is one that tends to hold a person up to hatred, contempt, or ridicule or causes him to be shunned or avoided by others.”
Humour, satire, sarcasm, cartoons and spoofs that make fun of people can be defamatory, by holding people up to ridicule unfairly. But it can be difficult to predict whether a court will say “although dressed up as joke, the barb is defamatory and damaging” or “no one would take this seriously, it’s obviously just a bit of fun.” Decisions have gone both ways.
The Indian Penal Code:-
The law related to online defamation is derived from the Indian Penal Code. The publisher in online sites or blogs is considered like any other who published newspapers or broadcast news.
Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code defines defamation 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, except in the cases hereinafter excepted, to defame that person.
Explanation 1-It may amount to defamation to impute anything to a deceased person, if the imputation would harm the reputation of that person if living, and is intended to be hurtful to the feelings of his family or other near relatives.
Explanation 2-1t may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.
Explanation 3-An imputation in the form of an alternative or expressed ironically, may amount to defamation.
Explanation 4-No imputation is said to harm a person's reputation, unless that imputation directly or indirectly, in the estimation of others, lowers the moral or intellectual character of that person, or lowers the character of that person in respect of his caste or of his calling, or lowers the credit of that person, or causes it to be believed that the body of that person is in a loathsome state, or in a state generally considered as disgraceful.
Punishment for defamation- Under Section 500 of the Indian Penal Code, defamation shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or both.
Section 503 IPC-Section 503 of IPC defines the offence of criminal intimidation by use of emails and other electronic means of communication for threatening or intimidating any person or his property or reputation.
Section 503 says that "whoever, threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of anyone in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threats, commits criminal intimidation".
Section 469 IPC-Section 469 of IPC says that whoever commits forgery, intending that the document or electronic record forged shall harm the reputation of any party, or knowing that it is likely to be used for that purpose shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.
The Information Technology Act, 2000- Sec. 66A of the IT Act, 2000 does not specifically deal with the offence of cyber defamation. However, it punishes the act of sending grossly offensive material for causing insult, injury or criminal intimidation.
Section 66A of the IT Act says that any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device-
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any content information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device;
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
Though the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not specifically define defamation as an offence, it is clear that the definition of "publishing" is wide enough to include statements made on the Internet. The medium of publication is immaterial in cases involving defamation because, just as in the real world, everyone online has the right to reputation.
Employer, when liable:-
If an employee, during working hours, emails a defamatory remark about a competitor company to a colleague, the firm could be held liable for defamation even if the employee's actions were not authorized or expressly prohibited. In the case of SMC Pneumatics Ltd. vs Jogesh Kwatra, defamatory emails were allegedly sent to the top management of SMC Pneumatics by the defendant, who has since been restrained by the Delhi High Court from sending any form of communication to the plaintiff. This order of Delhi High Court assumes tremendous significance as this is for the first time that an Indian Court assumed jurisdiction in a matter concerning cyber defamation and granted an ex-parte injunction restraining the defendant from defaming the plaintiffs by sending derogatory, defamatory, abusive and obscene emails either to the plaintiffs or their subsidiaries.
Lodging of complaint:-
A person aggrieved of the offence of cyber defamation can make a complaint to the Cyber Crime Investigation Cell. The Cyber Crime Investigation Cell is a branch of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Cyber Crime Investigation Cells are functioning in many cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Tamil Nadu, Gurgaon, Pune, Madhya-Pradesh, Lucknow, etc. The Cyber Crime Investigation Cells deal with offences related to the computer, computer network, computer resource, computer systems, computer devices and Internet.
Courtesy:- Legal Point Foundation