#MeToo: HC seeks artist's response on Google's plea

The Delhi High Court has sought response of artist Subodh Gupta on a plea by Google Inc. seeking to vacate orders asking the search engine to remove anonymous posts containing sexual harassment accusations against him that emerged during last year's #MeToo movement.

Google sought modification of the court's September 18 and 30 orders by which it was directed to block certain URLs, allegedly defamatory to Gupta.

The Internet giant claimed that if the two orders are not set aside, it will have a "chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression and be against public interest".

Google's application was filed in a defamation suit by Gupta against Instagram handle — Herdsceneand — and others, seeking Rs five crore for damage caused to him and his family due to the alleged defamatory posts.

Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw sought response of Gupta and others on Google's application and listed the matter for further hearing on November 18.

Google, in its application filed through advocates Neel Mason and Vihan Dang, claimed that these proceedings have 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.

Facebook, one of the defendants in the suit, also informed the court that they have removed the post about Gupta from the 'Herdsceneand' Instagram account, which can no longer be viewed by users in India, although users outside India can view the posts.

Google, in its plea, sought to vacate/modify or set aside the court's two orders.

It said Google Inc "owns and operates an online search engine available at www.google.com/ www.google.co.in which merely performs the task of indexing information, in response to a search query, that is already available on independent third party websites that are beyond the control and supervision of the applicant and the applicant does not create, own or control any content on a third party website. Hence, the applicant is neither the host nor the publisher of the third party content displayed on the Google Search Engine."

It said various media/news reporting agencies have publishes there articles and inspite of being aware of these entities, Gupta has with deliberate and malafide intentions failed to implead them and the suit is liable to fail on this ground alone.

The high court had earlier restrained Herdsceneand from posting any content relating to Gupta on its account.

It had also directed 'Herdsceneand', Instagram LLC, Facebook Inc, Google Inc and Google India Pvt. Ltd. to forthwith remove/ take down the defamatory posts/ articles/ all content pertaining to Gupta and block certain URLs/ web links.

It had also directed Facebook Inc., which controls Instagram LLC, to furnish before the court in a sealed envelope the particulars of the person/ entity behind the Instagram Account 'Herdsceneand' by the next date of hearing on November 18.

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