Subodh Gupta Case: Google Says Delhi HC Order Can Have 'Chilling Effect on Free Speech'

The court had asked Google to take down news articles related to allegations of sexual harassment against the artist.

New Delhi: In September, when artist Subodh Gupta filed a defamation case against an anonymous Instagram account that had posted allegations of sexual harassment against him on the social media site, the Delhi high court had directed Google to remove around 18 news articles on the allegations.

It had also directed Facebook to reveal the identity of the anonymous account and take down a few of the posts related to the allegations. Facebook is the parent company of Instagram.

In response, Google has asked the court to modify its order, saying that such an action would have a “chilling effect on free speech.” Google also said that it would be “against public interest” to take down the articles.

The search engine giant has also told the court that the present case “has been clearly initiated with a view to put an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech and expression on the internet as well as the freedom of the press”.

Also read: In #MeToo Email to Subodh Gupta, Art Collective Grappled with Need to Oust Friend and Founder

On Monday, Google moved court seeking to vacate or modify the Delhi high court’s ad interim ex parte order in which the company was directed to remove the content.

Google told the court that in a case of alleged defamation, if a prima facie and interim injunction needs to be given, then the threshold for this alleged defamation must be very high. In this case, Gupta has asked for the injunction and the court has immediately directed it. There has not been any inquiry into what level of truth exists in the allegations which Gupta claims has defamed him, said Google.

Google urged that there needs to be a high threshold “to keep a fair balance between the constitutional right of free speech and individual rights.”

Google has asked the court to modify its order citing that the company Google Inc owns and operates the Google search engine which “merely performs the task of indexing information.” But, it said, the information itself is already available on “independent third party websites that are beyond their control and supervision and they do not create, own or control any content on third party websites.”

Thus Google has insisted that the content which the court is asking it to take down is neither hosted by Google, nor published by it.

Those sites which do own and host content on the allegations, however, have not been made party to this case. For example, Gupta has asked for news stories published in Economic Times and Scroll to be taken down. These organisations have not been summoned. Google has raised this in its application as well.

Facebook has reportedly not challenged this order and has already removed the posts on Instagram through which the allegations had been made, in India. Users abroad can still view the posts but those in India cannot. Google has also removed the URLs of a few articles and three Instagram URLs.

The matter will come up for hearing at the Delhi high court on November 18.