Delhi High Court Restrains Twitter Handle ‘TRACTOR2TWITTER’ From Publishing Defamatory Material Against Aaj Tak

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Facts of the Case 

In the present petition, the Petitioner is a part of the reputed India Today Group, a multimedia conglomerate with a widespread presence in print and electronic media. Plaintiff runs and operates four 24-hour news channels in the country, including the largest Hindi news channel ‘Aaj Tak’. Plaintiff protects its intellectual property rights in the ‘AajTak’ brand and its logos and has carried out various trademark registrations in ‘Aaj Tak’ as also the logos. 

Plaintiff was not certain of the exact legal status of Defendant no.1. As per its own description, the said Defendant named Tractor2Twitter was an online community of persons interested in the protests taking place across the country against the new farm bills. The online communities of Defendant no.1 were operated by way of a website, a Twitter account, a Facebook Page, an Instagram Account, a third-party administered Telegram Group, and a Telegram Channel. From the Twitter accounts of Defendant nos. 2 and 3, it appeared that they were the founder and co-founder of Defendant no.1 respectively. Whereas, Defendant no. 4 was a company providing digital marketing services and is the registrant of the website of Defendant no.1. According to the submission made by the Learned Counsel for the Plaintiffs, the remaining Defendants fell within the definition of the term ‘intermediary’ as defined under Section 2(1)(w) and Section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000. Defendant no.5/Twitter Inc was a social media company that provided micro-blogging services, defendant no.6/Facebook Inc operated social networking websites/platforms called ‘Facebook’ and ‘Instagram’ that allow users to communicate, publish and post content, and Defendant no.7, Telegram FZ LLC was a freeware, cross-platform, cloud-based instant messaging software, which provides end-to-end encrypted video calling, VoIP, file sharing and several other features. 

On 30.05.2021, around 6:29 AM, Defendant no.1 released, on its official Telegram channel, seven posters under the message ‘Graphics for 30th May Graphics’ that contained the ‘AajTak’ logo with an interdictory circle/‘No’ or Prohibited sign interposed on it and calling the ‘AajTak’ news channel anti-farmer, venomous, toxic, communal. 

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Consequently, Plaintiff filed the present suit against Defendants, on account of such malicious and defamatory campaign started by Defendant no.1. 

Arguments Before the Court

Mr Hrishikesh Baruah, the Learned Counsel for the Petitioner submitted that with such messages and posters, Defendant nos. 1 to 3 have been maliciously asking their subscribers and followers to use a derogatory hashtag that malignantly used the ‘AajTak’ name and share, tweet and re-tweet messages that utilize this hashtag to spread its usage. Further, he drew the Court’s attention to certain tweets, contents and also provided the Court with a list of URLs that contained the offensive content.

He submitted that even though the allegations against the Plaintiff, Aaj Tak and its employees contained in these defamatory tweets, messages and posts created at the instigation of Defendant nos. 1 to 3 were totally baseless and highly defamatory, the number of likes, comments, tweets and retweets of these defamatory posters and messages, as well as the use of the offending hashtag, continue to increase by the passage of time, thereby lowering the image of the Plaintiff company.

Court’s Observations

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The Court perused the various tweets which were published by Defendant Nos.1 to 3 as well as the posts of Defendant No. 1 on its Facebook page, Instagram account, and official Telegram channel. After having perused all these, the Court was of the prima facie opinion that they contained wild allegations, which were defamatory and used objectionable and abusive language against the Plaintiff, its Aaj Tak new channel, and its employees. The Court observed that such a campaign against the Plaintiff, its ‘Aaj Tak’ news channel, and its employees can be extremely damaging to their reputation and also cause personal injury to them. 

The Court found it fit to grant an interim injunction in favour of Plaintiff and against the Defendants in terms of prayer of the application under Order XXXIX Rules 1 and 2 CPC. 

Court’s Decision

In these circumstances, and considering the averments in the plaint, till the next date of hearing the Court gave several directions. The Court restrained Defendant nos.1 to 3 from making any defamatory or derogatory posts/tweets or making any adverse remarks or uploading any content against the Plaintiff, the ‘AajTak’ news channel, and its employees either through any of its social media accounts or on any social media platform or any other print/electronic medium. The Court further directed the defendants namely Istrides Technologies, Twitter Incorporated, Facebook Incorporated, and Telegram FZ LLC to remove/take down the defamatory posts/articles/all content about the Plaintiff and block the impugned URLs/web links. Defendant nos.1 to 3, their agents, representatives, associates were directed to forthwith remove the impugned within three days from today. The Court further mentioned that in case they fail to comply with this direction, the plaintiff shall communicate the factum of this non-compliance to Defendant Nos. 5 and 6, who shall disable/block their accounts within 48 hours of receipt of such communication from the plaintiff. 

The Court also gave direction to Defendant nos.5 to 7 to disclose to the Plaintiff through its counsel, the complete details of Defendant nos.1 to 3 that may be available with them, including the email address, mobile number, and any other contact details, in a password protected file within five days of the Plaintiff serving this order upon them. 

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