The Delhi High Court today exempted Google India and Facebook India officials from personal appearances before a magistrate who had summoned 21 websites, including them, for hosting allegedly objectionable materials on their web pages.
A bench of Justice Suresh Kait, however, refused to stay the trial court proceedings and asked the counsel to appear on behalf of the accused websites.
The trial court, which had issued summonses to the websites, is scheduled to hear journalist Vinay Rai's complaint on March 13. Rai has accused the websites of hosting allegedly obscene material on their webpages.
Advocates N K Kaul and Siddharth Luthra, appearing for Google India and Facebook India respectively, told Justice Kait that the Supreme Court too was seized with two cases which have some common issues and the decision will have a bearing on the case pending in the high court.
The lawyers said the apex court has reserved its verdict in one matter and it would hear another case tomorrow.
Justice Kait preferred to wait till the apex court judgement and listed the matter for further hearing on May 3.
The Centre, meanwhile, filed its report on grant of sanction to prosecute 21 websites.
The Centre had earlier filed the report before a metropolitan magistrate that there was "sufficient material" to proceed against the websites for the alleged offences, including those for spreading community hatred.
Out of the 21 websites summoned by a trial court for allegedly promoting enmity between classes and causing prejudice to national integration, Google India and Facebook India had moved the high court challenging the summonses to them on various grounds including the one that they had no control on the contents posted by users on their websites.
The counsel for Delhi Police opposed the submissions of Google and Facebook that they did not receive any intimation regarding the presence of objectionable materials on their webpages.
Referring to a report of the Centre, he said the websites were aware about objectionable materials on their webpages.
Referring to four letters of the Department of Information and Technology to the websites, he said the
accused were asked to remove the objectionable materials. They, however, ignored the complaints.
The lawyer also said protection under section 79 of the Information Technology Act was not available to the intermediaries (such as Google India) which did not observe due diligence.
He also said that under the lisence conditions, websites are morally and legally bound to remove objectionable contents. They are operating in India but failed to obey the law of the land and hurting sentiments of the people.
The websites were earlier summoned by a lower court to face prosecution in the case. The inquiry report, filed by police, also supported the plea of the complainant to try the websites.
The Department of Information Technology, in its report, granted sanction to proceed against the 21 companies for allegedly promoting enmity between classes and causing prejudice to national integrity.
The magistrate had, on December 23, issued summons to 21 websites for allegedly committing offences of criminal conspiracy, sale of obscene books and sale of obscene objects to young persons.
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