The Delhi High Court on Friday refused to direct news portal Newslaundry to take down its videos containing clips of news channels India Today and Aaj Tak that were alleged to have been defamatory and in violation of copyright laws.

Media conglomerate TV Today Network had filed a defamation and copyright infringement suit, accusing Newslaundry, a media watchdog, of “uploading infringing, defamatory, commercially disparaging material on their own website”.

TV Today Network owns India Today and Aaj Tak.

On Friday, Justice Asha Menon said that while the case prima facie appeared to be in favour of TV Today Network, interim relief cannot be granted given the circumstances. She said there was neither any balance of convenience in favour of the network nor was irreparable loss being caused.

Balance of convenience is based on the merits of the case – a comparison of which of the parties will suffer greater hardship – in cases of copyright infringement that can cause irreparable damage to the business concerned.

The court can pass an interim injunction order if it feels that there is balance of convenience in favour of the plaintiff.

The judge also said that the matter should be treated as a commercial dispute and discussed under broadcast rights rather than copyright laws.

TV Today Network had filed the copyright infringement and defamation case in October against Newslaundry seeking Rs 2 crore in damages. The suit alleged that Newslaundry has made “disparaging and defamatory allegations” about TV Today Group, its news channels, anchors and management.

The suit also sought an order to have 34 articles published on the Newslaundry website and 65 videos on the portal’s YouTube channel removed.

The TV Today group sought similar action against social media content related to these articles and videos posted on Newslaundry’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. It had also asked the Delhi High Court to restrain Newslaundry and its journalists from “writing, tweeting or publishing” anything defamatory about its channels, anchors and management.

The order

While denying interim relief to TV Today Network, Justice Menon in her order noted that the Right to free speech and expression includes the right to broadcast programmes.

“The right to free speech and expression carries with it the right to publish and circulate one’s ideas, opinions and views with complete freedom...[It] would also mean and include not only the electronic media and TV channels, but also the social-media platforms as the object of publication and broadcast is the same i.e., to reach out to the public,” the order stated.

The judge said that “dissemination of a spectrum of information” by many players would lead to a better informed society.

She added:

“Varied presentations and discussions would result in the availability of several shades of opinion before the public, which can then come to its own conclusion. It would definitely be in the interest of the public that every broadcaster has the right of fair comment on current events and of criticism and review, including of the programmes created by others.”

— Delhi High Court

The judge also referred to the satirical aspect of the shows of Newslaundry.

“Satire cannot be explained or else it would lose its flavour,” the order read. “Satire allows the satirist to criticise in the harshest of terms and critique actions of all, particularly of those in positions of power and/or authority and leadership. The intention of the satirist is to simultaneously highlight an action and its negative fallout, so that rectificatory action could be taken.”

The hearings

During hearings of the case, Advocate Hrishikesh Baruah, appearing for TV Today Network, had argued that Newslaundry used its clients contents without offering any valuable commentary or critique in an effort to demean its brand and news channels.

“The fact is they are not doing it for criticism,” Baruah had argued. “These are visual media we are talking about and in a case of visual media if you don’t have videos that are attractive, your content won’t succeed. They have used our videos for more than a minute while their own commentary is barely five or six seconds.”

Newslaundry’s counsel had, however, argued that the media conglomerate was showing half-baked and edited videos in question to the court.

“We are an organisation with a philosophy where we report and critique the media,” the counsel said. “They want to criticise everyone and want others to be thick skinned but when we criticise them, they become thin skinned.”

Besides moving the High Court, TV Today Network had also approached YouTube for copyright infringement. Subsequently, YouTube took down some of the videos and suspended Newslaundry’s account citing its policy.