The slippery slope of censorship

(This post was first published on Feb 17, 2013. There is an update added on Feb 18, 2013.)

I have no stake in the MBA business beyond ensuring that the MBA I work for knows that MBAs don’t make the world go around. The recent upsurge of protests against IIPM blocking 73 URLs has me concerned and I must join the protest.

First, this is censorship. This feels wrong. A private entity files a defamation case and gets a judgment to block resources on the Internet. This tramples upon the author’s right to freedom of expression. This destroys others’ right to obtain knowledge. How can the courts decide that I should not read or write a critical article about IIPM?

Second, the tactics used in these cases are not ethical.  IIPM is headquartered in New Delhi and has branches in Mumbai, Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pune, Lucknow, Indore, Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Jaipur, Dehradun, and Cochin (as of Feb 17, 2013). Where was this case filed? In Gwalior, by a channel partner. An earlier case was filed in Silchar of all places, by a recruitment agent. None of the cases are filed by IIPM directly. A personal blogger or a small on-line media organisation simply does not have the resources to put their lives on hold and run to these courts to protect their articles; indeed, their constitutional rights. This results in an uncontested case and an automatic win for IIPM. They don’t have to bother with defending against the criticism leveled in the article.

By the way, an educational institution having tens of branches, channel partners, recruitment agents and running full page ads – reminds me of coaching classes for IIT-JEE, CAT and 12th HSC.

Lastly, the list of URLs contain resources put on-line by the University Grants Commission. I am amazed at the audacity of IIPM agents. Howsoever indirectly, UGC is sponsored by all of us who pay our taxes. It is a government organisation working under the Ministry of Human Resources. We are entitled to get access to all notices, regulations and guidelines that the UGC put on its website. What law gives IIPM the right to even request a block on any document put forward by the UGC? A private for-profit organisation has effectively hampered the working of a government organization and put the educational careers of millions of students at stake.

It is time the government and judiciary take a closer look at the IT Act and its application; and if they have more time, may be try fixing the education system too.

Update @ February 18 – Reading this article on The Hindu’s website, it appears that the content owners were not contacted at all. Imagine that. Anybody can file a defamation case in some corner of this huge country and get away with blocking content on the Internet. Quote by Atul Chitnis in the article:

IIPM was not just using a distant court to gag specific websites but was also trying to scare other commentators into silence.

One last thing – they approached Google to remove the URLs from their search results, but Google did not act – because it obviously (and correctly) interpreted the request as an attempt at perverted censorship.

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