Tag Archives: censorship

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.

Saamna defends Abhijeet Mukherjee

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Everyone thinks Voltaire is the person who said this. Actually, it is Evelyn Beatrice Hall who paraphrased Voltaire’s beliefs with that simple quote. This quote is quite relevant as I discuss a Saamna editorial, as reported in the Times of India.

The editorial draws a parallel with the Palghar Facebook girls case and derides those who had supported the two girls for not supporting Mr. Mukherjee now. I would like to point out a few fallacies in that argument.

  • The support for the two girls from Palghar was not for their comments on Facebook but for their right to say that comment without fear of persecution. In particular, it was also a protest against the local police who threw nearly every police procedure out of the window to book those girls. Even in Mr. Mukherjee’s case, nobody is trying to shut him up. No one is damaging personal property belonging to him or his relatives. No one is dragging him to a police lockup at 11 in the night. They are dis-agreeing with his comments and calling him out on it.
  • The two girls were essentially nobodies. If the Shiv Sena had not taken umbrage, their comments would have sunk like stones in water and no one would have know about it. Mr. Mukherjee, however, is our President’s son, a member of India‘s First Family. He is a Congress MP. Both titles endow him with power and dignity in Indian society and with that, comes the responsibility to watch what he says in public, at least.

Finally I would say this – sneering at the candlewallahs and the  “lipstick brigade” is all well and good. The protesters who are braving the North Indian chill now are hardly “painted and dented”. They include migrant girls who have come to Delhi from outlying towns and villages and just want to better their lives. Do not belittle them or their anger by lumping them with socialites who plan protests over evening tea and games of bridge.


India beats the US, does better than SOPA and PIPA

So Slashdot carried an article about Zuckerberg getting married. Someone put in a link to a picture of the happy couple. Naturally, I clicked it, being curious and all. And I got this:

Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders

Of course, I have Copyright Labs, Chennai, to thank for this. Just because someone wanted to protect the income from their latest blockbuster, they have taken away my rights to information access. I am sure there is a clause somewhere in the Indian Constitution determining whether this is legal.

I am not supporting Pirate Bay, torrent web sites or other portals whose sole purpose is piracy. But it is the copyright owner’s responsibility to exercise due diligence and issue take-down notices only for genuine infringement cases identified by specific URLs or access conditions. This is possible. People have taken down infringing content without inconveniencing other users. Taking down entire portals, most of which have legitimate uses, is simply not done.

Criminals use roads and vehicles to get away from their crime scenes. You don’t see roads and vehicles being banned, do you?

Copyright Labs can’t escape the blame by saying they hadn’t asked for a blanket ban. It was their representation which was heard in the court and it was their responsibility to make sure that this did not happen. They took the lazy way out. They are to blame.

ISPs who share common parentage with distributors and studios – Reliance, I am looking at you – should get a clue. Do the shovel work yourself. Don’t impose blanket bans on the Internet because you are too busy earning money. You have to name specific instances of genuine infringement and only block those, not go nuclear on the Internet. Otherwise you simply too incompetent.