The Bombay High Court on Wednesday ordered a video blogger to remove a YouTube video that contained alleged defamatory and disparaging remarks about Parachute Oil, a product manufactured and sold by Marico Limited, Bar and Bench reported on Thursday. Marico Limited had filed a plea for the removal of the video and seeking damages last year.
Justice SJ Kathawalla said that social media influencers today, whether their audience is small or large, impact the lives of everybody who watches their content. Therefore, YouTuber Abhijeet Bhansali, who goes by the name Bearded Chokra on social media, should not have published content that was harmful or offensive.
“The rapid expansion and commercialisation of the internet has brought forth novel legal disputes which challenge the conventional principles and precedents which apply to them,” Kathawalla observed. “The present matter is an example of just that.”
The bench admitted that commercial speech is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, but added that this fundamental right cannot be abused by any individual by maligning or disparaging the product of others, Mumbai Mirror reported. “I do not believe that a social media influencer can deliver statements with the same impunity available to an ordinary person,” Justice Kathawalla said. “Such person bears a higher burden to ensure there is a degree of truthfulness in his statements.”
The court gave Bhansali a week’s time to challenge the judgement and get relief from an appeals court, failing which the video would have to be removed from YouTube. However, it declined to pass an order to stop Bhansali from uploading any such videos in the future, saying this will depend on a case-to-case basis.
Bhansali, represented by advocate Abhinav Chandrachud, said he held a master’s degree in biotechnology and had worked as an intern with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, where he conducted research on mustard leaves. The vlogger said that there was a lot of debate about whether coconut oil was healthy. Bhansali said the video was based on information from several blogs and articles appearing in the international press. He denied that he put up the video at the behest of any competitor of Marico.
However, senior advocate Virag Tulzapurkar and advocate Hiren Kamod, representing Marico, said that there was absolutely no problem with the product, and that it was made from the “finest grades of coconut available”. They argued that contrary to Bhansali’s claims, the video, at the end, provides links to a competitor’s products. The lawyers also said that Bhansali should have sent the oil to a laboratory for testing instead of relying on blogs and articles. The court accepted these arguments.
Bhansali had uploaded the video on his YouTube channel, “Bearded Chokra”, in September 2018. Marico came across the video in January 2019, and alleged that the defendant had made claims and statements that were false and unsubstantiated. Therefore, the plaintiff approached the Bombay High Court for an injunction to restrain the defendant from publishing or broadcasting the video.