The Bombay High Court appeal bench on Friday stayed a single judge order passed last month asking a YouTuber to take down a review video containing alleged defamatory and disparaging remarks about a prominent brand of coconut oil.
A division bench of Chief Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Bharati Dangre passed an interim order after it recorded submissions made by YouTuber Abhijeet Bhansali that he would modify content in the video since he does not wish to “quibble” over the dispute. Observing that social media influencers, irrespective of their audience being significant or not, impact the lives of everybody who watches their content. A single judge bench of Justice S J Kathawalla had directed the video blogger to remove the video. The order was passed after Marico Limited filed a plea seeking removal of the video and claimed special damages from him. Challenging single bench order, Bhansali had moved before the division bench.
Advocate Abhinav Chandra-chud, appearing for Bhansali, submitted that certain remarks and a statement about the oil being of “inferior quality”, despite being permissible under the law, will be removed. Directing Bhansali to carry out these measures within two weeks, the court stayed the single bench order.
In its order, the bench noted that the single judge had erred in findings related to the “falsehoods” in the video while there was only one “trivial error” part of the video. The same is not likely to mislead the viewer, said Chief Justice Nandrajog.
The division bench noted that Justice Kathawalla had ordered to remove the video while holding that right to freedom of speech and dissemination of information was granted to the press considering it was an organ of thought and refinement and thus, not to be made liable for errors of opinion. However, where the disseminator of the information allows “commerce to piggy back on the opinion”, the level of accountability would be more, Justice Kathawalla had considered.
The bench on Friday observed that a distinction has to be made between statements of fact and opinions to decide whether the statement would constitute defamation. In this regard, Chief Justice Nandrajog said that when a statement in question is an opinion made by the YouTuber, no defamation can be made out if it is based on disclosed facts, regardless of how derogatory the opinion is.
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