Uncategorized

The Times Publishing House threatens to sue our blogger for alleged defamation – we ain’t going down without a fight!


Aparajita Lath – SpicyIP Blogger
Take a good hard look at the photograph on the right. It’s a photograph of one of our youngest bloggers – Aparajita Lath, an innocent 22 year old gifted law student at the National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS), one of the top law schools in India. Do you think this girl is capable of hurting anybody much less defame one of the largest media companies in India?
Well, apparently there is somebody either at Times Publishing House Ltd. or in their lawyer’s office i.e. K. Dutta and Associates, who clearly think Aparajita is capable of defaming them because they recently served her with a legal notice threatening both civil and criminal action. She received the notice on April 23, 2013 for a post she wrote on SpicyIP on February 12, 2013 on the 19 year dispute between the Financial Times Ltd. and the Times Group over the “Financial Times” trademark – apparently it took them a few months to figure out that were feeling defamed.
The Times Publishing House Ltd, is a part of the Times Group which includes companies like Bennett Coleman which publishes what they claim to be one of the largest circulating English newspapers in the world – The Times of India. Other components of this media empire include the television channel – Times Now and the radio company – Entertainment Network India Ltd. (ENIL) which runs the Mirchi brand of radio stations across the country. The entire empire is owned and run mainly by these two men pictured below.
Samir Jain and Vineet Jain – Picture from here
The legal notice served on Aparajita by the Times Publishing Houses Ltd. and Shamnad’s fitting response can be accessed over here and here.
According to the legal notice, served on Aparajita, the publication of her post, “caused an irreparable injury and loss of reputation” to Times Publishing House Ltd. The following paragraph is even better: “Pursuant to the publication of the impugned article our Client has been contacted by several persons, inquiring about the same. Our client has been questioned and subjected to contempt and ridicule and has suffered immense prejudice and loss of goodwill, reputation, standing and goodwill in the industry”. Oh my! And I guess the sky is going to fall on our heads next because of one post on this blog.
The allegedly defamatory post by Aparajita can be accessed here. In the post, she carried an excellent summary of the 19 year old litigation between Financial Times Ltd. and Times of India Group over the trademark “Financial Times” & “FT”. Aparajita’s post had very carefully referenced and summarized a number of articles which appeared in the Mint about the dispute and from the information we have, the Mint has not been sued as yet.
The first article was written by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta one of India’s finest independent journalists. You can see an interview with him over here. In his article, Paranjoy covers the litigation between FT and TOI extensively and from what I understand he too has received a legal notice from Times Publishing House Ltd. for alleged defamation.
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta – Image from here
There is some history of simmering tension between Paranjoy Guha and the Times Group. A few years ago, Paranjoy Guha was one of the authors of a damning Press Council of India report which brilliantly documented the scourge of ‘paid news’ in India. At the time Press Council of India, which is run by the media itself, refused to allow the report to be released to the public and the only reason it became public was because the Central Information Commission ordered the release of the report under the Right to Information Act, 2005. It can be accessed over here. Turns out that the report had documented extensively the practices of Times Group and whether or not these practices would qualify as “paid news”. The report is well worth a read and I’m guessing that it upset the Times Group to no end.
The second article referenced by Aparajita was an interview by well-known lawyer Harish Salve who is representing FT in this dispute. Salve’s interview is quite candid and he is hardly appreciative of TOI’s strategies in this litigation. We don’t know whether even Salve has received a notice for defamation. Given
Harish Salve – Image from here

that the notice served on Aparajita has taken objection to Salve’s comment, he too should have received a legal notice otherwise they really can’t sue Aparajita. A third article referenced by Aparajita was by a Mint reporter.

For those of you who have read Aparajita’s post, you will agree with me that there is nothing in her post which even remotely qualifies as defamatory. She has taken care to base each and every assertion on the Mint articles, which them-selves were a fair comment on an issue of public importance. The comments which were not based on the Mint article were also fair comments based on valid facts.

Even presuming, for sake of argument, that some facts were wrong in the post, the remedy is to send us a clarification, more so when the party making such an allegation, is a part of a media conglomerate that claims to publish one of the most circulated English papers in not just India but the world. It is not like the Times of India has never made an error in reporting and if they were to be sued for defamation every time they made a mistake they would have been bankrupt by now. Let me just point out to a few instances of poor reporting by the Times of India which we have documented on this blog. In November last year, we carried this post on how a particular news report in the Bangalore edition of the Times of India was nothing but an unattributed reproduction of a press release. We also carried other posts over hereand herewhere we pointed out the inaccuracy in ToI news reports.

The most egregious portion of the legal notice however is the threat of criminal action against Aparajita for alleged defamation. Egregious, since this comes from a newspaper. The Editors Guild of India has been campaigning for the abolition of criminal defamation laws because their reporters were constantly being threatened under these outdated laws and yet Times Publishing House thinks nothing of threatening criminal action against a 22 year old law student. What makes things worse is the fact that the move to have criminal defamation laws abolished was reported in the Times of India itself over here.

As our readers may know, last year, Shamnad was sued by NATCO for alleged defamation (you can read his defence here) and now Aparajita receives a legal notice threatening legal action – clearly blogging is becoming a riskier activity and the tragedy with increasing risk, is the possibility that bloggers will try to self-censor in the fear of offending giants like the Times Group.

We may not be as big as the Times Group but we are not going down without a fight. We are 100% behind Aparajita in this fight against the Times Group and if she is sued we will provide her with all support. If we submit to this defamation notice today, every Tom, Dick and Harry will be sending us defamation notices every time they are ‘hurt’ and in a country like this it does not take too much for eggshell egos to be hurt at the drop of a hat.

Prashant Reddy

Prashant Reddy

T. Prashant Reddy graduated from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore, with a B.A.LLB (Hons.) degree in 2008. He later graduated with a LLM degree (Law, Science & Technology) from the Stanford Law School in 2013. Prashant has worked with law firms in Delhi and in Indian academia. He is currently a Research Associate at Applied Research Centre for Intellectual Assets and the Law in Asia (ARCIALA), Singapore Management University.

44 comments.

  1. Basit

    Shame on Times. By serving the notice they have only strengthen the point of the blogger. I am sure SpicyIP is more than capable of dealing with this….

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    “We can respond in kind, but we chose to be a bit more civil with you. “

    Well. You did respond in kind, grammatical errors included.

    I am proud of this blog and I love it to bits, and ToI deserves every bit of crap flying its way…but.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Hi Prashant

    I agree that the defamation notice has no merit.

    But I hope you do agree that it is not important for the readers to evaluate the validity of the allegations based on the looks or the age of the person making the statement.

    Also, it is foolhardy to suggest that WE INDIANS as a class have eggshell egos.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    This is quite ridiculous on the part of Times. They themselves are one of the largest publishers of actual unfounded defamatory material in the country, and now they sue someone for merely summarizing the opinions of respected journalists and a lawyer. Shame on you, Times!

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Talking about “fair comment”, it wouldnt be wrong to say that Aparajita has in the past stretched the line of “fairness” while commenting way too easily and way too much. She has talent and a unique style of reporting which i myself admire but she must learn to balance her words and appreciate sentiments of the people/entities she speaks of, whatever her personal view of that person/entity may be.

    While i personally fear that both sides may have blown the issue out of proportion a bit having gone through the notice/reply/impugned, post i believe posting the present article on a publicly viewable blog would only do more harm than good in settling the issue and letting sanity prevail.

    Reply
  6. Abhik Majumdar

    You yourself have pointed out (a) Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Harish Salve were ‘complicit’ in this putative defamatory attempt (if the matter can be stretched enough to justify the use of the word ‘complicit’); and (b) in all likelihood they have not had notices served upon them and possibly never will. I suppose this bespeaks the latest bullying tactic adopted by corporate houses and apparatchik law firms – go after the smallest fish.

    Needless to say, all credit to SpicyIP for taking a stand on the matter.

    Reply
  7. Jay Sayta

    First of all congratulations for the article and also the attention it has received! Not everyone gets the honour of legal notice and attention by such a big media house.

    Secondly I would also like to say that it is good that the pugnacious and litigious media houses who preach free speech are taught a lesson- I run a website myself and know the high-handed behaviour of media houses first hand and good to see that you take their baseless threats heads-on.

    Though you and the team at Spicy IP are more than equipped to deal with the legal threats and I am a very small law student who won’t be able to do much but in any case, do let me know if there is anything I can do to help you all out in this.

    Regards,
    Jay.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    I wonder if its possible to damage the Times of India’s reputation? The real question is what reputation?

    Reply
  9. Vijit... :-)

    Great Article…
    And this was a very cowardice act from the Times group…

    They are saying that the Mint article is incorrect and false. Consequently, reporting based on that article would also be incorrect. It makes no sense…

    And sending a legal notice to independent blog site just proves that they are feeling insecure of the unbiased blogging of SpicyIP…

    Full support to SpicyIP

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    while the meek may inherit the earth, they are bound to be shown no favour by corporate powerhouses such as your client…..
    Brilliant reply..

    -ILS Law College Alumni

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    Aparajita has done no wrong by expressing her opinion, is not that granted to us by our constitution.

    These are the reasons that we should have restrictions on cross media holdings, the media houses/owners are becoming a law into themselves.

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    The legal notice is poorly drafted and displays the advocate’s lack of understanding of the law, and even the facts. It would do Mr. Verma a world of good to refresh his knowledge of the law relating to defamation. He either does not understand the law, or he has prepared a notice full of allegations and assertions that won’t stand in court for even a second because that is the best a lawyer could do for the Times Group given that no defamation has occurred. The Noticee is referred to as a journalist of stature, thereby implying a standard of care. However, she is not a journalist, let alone have any stature as one – she is a law student who is writing an article! Quoting a prominent lawyer and journalists of repute is a sure shot defence when quoted in good faith. Contrary to what K Datta & Associates asserts, no one has any obligation to report SLPs and appeals and the Noticee is within her rights to quote whatever judgement she wishes. If her interpretation of the judgement is incorrect, that does not amount to defamation – even the Supreme Court has to interpret its own judgements sometimes through specially constituted benches! Also, it is difficult to understand why the Government should not embarrassed by private contracts when it displays the Government’s inability to attract foreign investment / provide comfort to foreign investors. Further, malice is easier alleged than proved. Good luck to Mr. Verma on that!

    Bloody pressure tactic to extract an apology. Legally, the notice is a joke and does not have any example of defamation. Times Group’s image would be no different if someone had not read the article – they are ill-famous for this kind of crap anyway. Another example how Times Groups uses the legal system under the pretense of protecting its so-called “rights”.

    Reply
  13. Respond reasonably

    Even though Times Publishing Limited might have pushed too far against your blog and your student blogger, what is the need for such an emotion-laden response?
    You needlessly make assertions about the size of your blog, the age, gender and capabilities of your blogger, the quality of her law school, etc. What is all this nonsense for? How is it connected with whether she did or did not defame the Times Group?
    If you don’t like the ToI so be it. You can rant about that all you want. And you are certainly entitled to your opinion. To be fair, it does appear to most people that this is a case of bullying. But to scream and shout about ancillary matters instead of contesting the main issue is nothing short of bad form. You guys shoot yourselves in the foot with blog posts like this.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous

    “Do you think this girl is capable of hurting anybody much less defame one of the largest media companies in India?”

    This is diluting the entire piece, and making SPICY IP (is it all caps?) look silly. Very amateurish attempt at striking the reader’s irrational (some call it emotional) chord.

    Not that I disagree with the article itself, but that silly intro killed it for me.

    – an ex-journo

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    Is this how power-houses stoop to the lowest level,to get themselves publicity[!]sic!!Bullying young,innocent students is a SHAME.

    If i was in their boots,i would have had the humility[which befits big people] to apologize and praise her for the brilliantly written article,which was entirely based on reported matters.Shame to TOI!

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    Agree with the comments of Anon @ 2.28 and 1.54. I for one feel that the language in the reply is equally uncivil. Would have appreciated more if the moderators and editors, I assume Shamnad and Prashant, have taken the responsibility of all the posts on Spicyip. So, stand with/before her and not ‘behind’ if you can take moral responsibility. Also, irrespective of the age/stature/height/affiliation and innocence, one may dilute/hurt/damage the reputation. Further, it is foolish to say that the publisher already is doing such bad reporting that there is no reputation. It parallels with the arguments of bad character of the victim in sexual assault cases.

    Last, there was no need to actually post the notice on this when the media house chose to send a private notice instead of publishing it in its various mediums.

    Again freq anon.

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    Would agree to that writing something like:

    “”Do you think this girl is capable of hurting anybody much less defame one of the largest media companies in India?”

    is an attempt to bias the reader and a futile attempt to beguile an audience with a biased opening line.
    Its no secret that even a small girl with false belief in the right place (viz. a court) can cause a falsely accused person to to deathrow by just saying she witnessed a man doing a crime he never did.

    anyways, having said that, agree that the times newspaper is a biased organisation and have heard a times edior tell me how they have a filter list… which essentially means you cannot say anything that will cause aspersions about any person/group who figures in that list. some ppl on the list include well known actors, politicians and influential ppl.

    Reply
  18. Someshwar

    Congratulations to Spicy IP for taking up a stand.

    A fitting reply as is expected from the IP Man of India.

    Would love to know if the Times Group or their lawyers have anything more to say

    Reply
  19. Shivam Bhardwaj

    I cannot believe a reputed publishing house will go so far as to file a defamatory suit against a law student. Shows their limited understanding of freedom of speech and expression and their inability to cope up with ‘honest’ and ‘well-researched’ reporting of events relating to their undertakings. Aprajita Lath has done no wrong in summarizing the views of noted lawyers and journalists.

    Reply
  20. J Maroli

    Emotionally speaking TOI required, this kind of treatment for its alleged legal notice.

    Although in normal practice replies to Legal notices would never sound as if it is against the lawyer who had sent it, the language in this reply appears to be an affront on the lawyer also, however learned or inexperienced he may be.

    This may have been avoided. However, Prof. Basheer has the right to say it!Also, TOI had not made the notice public as someone had pointed out in the comments. Therefore in my opinion, it would have been better if this was published after launch of any court action. Now there is also also an emotional ground for the lawyer as well to prompt its client to initiate an action however silly it may look in the final analysis.

    Reply
  21. Hanifpatel

    hanif patel
    this is too much from Giant Media group this young girl has not said any thing wrong… Free World free Media.

    Reply
  22. Sh

    Super-cool response that is Prof.!
    Although id say its a bit unfair to pick on
    the attorneys personally, for everyone
    knows that what they say is what the client
    wants them to. The lawyers wud care not
    so much to receive an apology or whatever
    from the author, but ultimately its the
    Times group who’d want to highlight it on
    their first page headline.
    Plus imho, i dont think a legal notice of this sort wud have been much different, in content or style, had it been issued from any other lawyer, to justify a personal attack on a lawyer simply doing what his client asked him to.

    Reply
  23. Shamnad Basheer

    Thanks for all your support in helping us take on corporate bullies hell bent on killing free speech in this country. Contrary to what some of you may think, this approach of ours and my rather strongly worded letter came after significant deliberation. Given the increasing propensity to issue frivolous notices and file frivolous suits with a view to intimidating writers into meek submission, we had to find a way to send a strong message. We were very keen on mainstreaming the issue and forcing right minded folks to see this plague for what it was and helping us fight the fight.

    Some of you may know that TOI managed to shut down at least one blogger in the past with a defamation threat. Natco tried its hand with us when it sued me for what was a self evident comment I made that it had lied to a court of law. Funnily enough, Natco itself admitted in one of its documents that it effectively lied to the court. And yet it proceeds to sue for defamation, completely oblivious to the fact that “truth” and “fair comments” are defences to charges of defamation. Thankfully our courts are sane and refused to grant them an injunction despite their lawyers screaming for it multiple times. However, Natco did succeed to some extent, in that none of our mainstream media bravehearts ever wrote anything on that case after that! One of them even told me that he had standing instructions from his boss to not touch the case after that! The shadow effects of these notices and these law suits are rather pernicious to the say the least.

    They represent an insidious threat for one of the cardinal freedoms that many of us cherish, namely the freedom to speak our mind. We need to fight to salvage this sacrosanct freedom….one that is constitutionally guaranteed to us in this wonderful democracy of ours. We just cannot afford to throw it away at the behest of corporate bullies who will stoop at nothing to achieve what they want.

    Starting today, we’ll effectively launch a sustained campaign to resuscitate free speech values in this country. This will include a variety of advocacy including a strong push to decriminalise defamation. I sincerely hope that if these values matter to you, you will join us in this fight. Please let us know either in the comments section or by emailing us. Many thanks again for your support!

    Reply
  24. Shamnad Basheer

    Dear Sh:

    A quick response to your interesting line of thought that the lawyer was somehow blameless in all of this. You really believe that lawyers are automatons responding mechanically to client requests? Is this what the role of a lawyer is? To parrot what the client wants? Without regard for the substance of the law itself? Is there any bit of Aparajita’s post that appears defamatory to you? And if there is none, is it not the duty of the lawyer to so inform the client? Rather than shooting off a highly intemperate notice threatening her with criminal defamation! I’d go so far as to state that a failure to advise the client on the absence of a legal cause of action tantamounts to professional negligence! The client may want the moon, but it is our duty to inform them that under the present set of laws, all that they really deserve are the stars…or sometimes even less…

    What I am completely perplexed about is the fact that a major media company which presumably is more interested in free speech than we (small time bloggers) are is effectively planting snakes in its own backyard through the “soft norms” and shadow effects that they effectively build up through these ridiculous notices and suits. Even as a matter of strategy, would you have really advised this to your client?

    Call me crazy, but I’d really like to vest those of my ilk with a little more sense and sensibility and the notion (foolhardy perhaps) that we are not mere automatons at the beck and call of a lousy client!

    Reply
  25. Anonymous

    Befitting response to the notice. IQ tests must be mandatory for lawyers who support frivolous litigation 😛

    Reply
  26. Anonymous

    Didn’t know about the issue until Times Group decided to sue Aparajita Lath and defamed themselves.

    Reply
  27. Siva

    Dear Shamnad, on the point of picking on the lawyer who has issued the notice, are you privy to the advise Times received from them or have you assumed that they have not appropriately or adequately advised their client? Or is it your assumption that no reasonable party, and especially someone like the Times Group, would have issued such a notice had they been properly advised? I would be very surprised if you’ve never come across people in your professional life who’ve heard all that you have to say and then ask you to do the exact opposite. A lawyers job is to enable the client’s decision making not be the decision maker himself. It is the client who has to bear the responsibility of and pay the price for that decision. I feel its highly unfair to shoot the messenger and malign someone who is doing their job.

    Reply
  28. Shamnad Basheer

    Dear Siva:

    Thanks for your comment, As I see it, there are three broad possibilities here:

    1. The lawyer knew the law and that his client had absolutely no case….but still went ahead with an obnoxious notice intended to intimidate and bully. A notice that clearly would have long term perverse consequences for the future of free speech. I strongly believe they deserve as much admonition as their clients in attempting to deliberately create soft norms that would have dealt a deep blow to a fundamental value cherished by many of us and embedded in our constitution, namely the right to free speech.

    Unlike you, I’m a bit old fashioned and staunchly believe that we’re not just dalals and messengers who blindly dance to the tune of a client or as some put it more ingloriously, pimps that prostitute themselves to the highest bidder….rather, i’d like to think of our ilk as professionals with a duty to society, to ideals of fairness and justice, and to that abiding instrument called the constitution. And apparently our regulatory framework (Rules to the Advocates Act framed by the Bar Council of India) mirrors my sentiment.Section I of the Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette state:

    “An advocate shall use his best efforts to restrain and prevent his client from resorting to sharp or unfair practices. An advocate shall refuse to
    represent the client who persists in such improper conduct. He shall not consider himself a mere mouth-piece of the client….”

    The BCI then goes on to elaborate on this rule on its website:

    “An advocate shall refuse to represent any client who insists on using unfair or improper means. An advocate shall excise his own judgment in such matters. He shall not blindly follow the instructions of the client.”

    Need I say more?

    2. The second possibility is that the lawyer had no clue of the law in this regard and assumed there was a cause of action here. Professional negligence anyone?

    3. Thirdly, and most troublingly, the lawyer was the one who pushed his client to take this repulsive route. In which case, our language was way too mild, no?

    Anyway, I have to thank you for forcing us to think through some of these issues pertaining to professional responsibility.

    Reply
  29. Anonymous

    Rule 7 is equally interesting.

    7. Not disclose the communications between client and himself

    An advocate should not by any means, directly or indirectly, disclose the communications made by his client to him. He also shall not disclose the advice given by him in the proceedings. However, he is liable to disclose if it violates Section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.

    This comment is in the context of a post some time back which reproduced internal emails between counsel and client on the OPUS/Textbook matter. I believe that this duty to preserve privilege extends even to advocates who receive it from ‘leaks’/’whistleblowers’/what have you in either the client offices or counsel offices.

    Notwithstanding the fact that it was removed subsequently, the fact remains that an advocate of any standing in the profession should not have placed it for public consumption online in the first place.

    And a final note, the extent of demonification of the advocate in this defamation notice issue smacks of a bit of a ‘National’Law school/academy/university arrogance – in particular, the emphasis on the language/grammar of the notice in some places in the notice. Bad spelling or bad grammar are not the exclusive preserve of non-NLS variety law colleges. Jolly LLB anyone??

    sincerely anonymous

    Reply
  30. Anonymous

    How is Rule 7 even relevant to the issue being discussed? Speak about diversionary tactics.

    Or is it that publisher lawyers are scared since they will have their injunction vacated soon. So long as they had a weak adversary (DU), they had a field day in court. And were able to obtain what publisher counsel called in his gloating email to his clients as a consent order! But now with academic and student groups entered as parties, they really have to sweat it out. Can’t wait to watch the fun 🙂

    Reply
  31. Shamnad Basheer

    Dear Sincerely Anonymous (1.41 pm) and Anonymous (12.33):

    The publisher law suit against Delhi University has nothing to do with free speech issues and defamation. So kindly refrain from engaging in that discussion on this post. If you’re itching to discuss it, there are two provocative posts that we’ve (Lawrence and me) have put up on Kafila. You’re more than welcome to discuss it there. Or in the comments section of any other post on this blog pertaining to this unfortunate law suit (and trust me, we’ve written about this dispute extensively on this blog…so there are plenty of posts to chose from). So lets return to the issue at hand here, namely the obnoxious notice sent by Times and the potential chilling effect that these notices have on free speech. Thank you for your consideration.

    Reply
  32. Sh

    Hi Prof.!

    I understand the issue of professional ethics/responsibility involved in the profession and even personally i have found myself mostly irritated with the kind of ‘adversaries’ which we have to deal on an almost daily basis. But what i feel, with whatever humble experience i have gained, that the ‘unfortunate evolution’ has made the profession such (with circumstances which go beyond the profession) that its very nature has resulted in such class of practice. The people in such practice may not be ‘blameless’, but at the same time they may not be personally vilified, for acting only as agents (and for ‘bread’, for the want of an alternate word). I cant even deny that it usually even becomes a part of the training where we are taught, if i may put in civilised language, how ‘clients are to be worshipped’ coupled with immense work pressures and ‘non-lawyer jobs’, again for ‘client satisfaction’.

    But then this would probably catapult into a rather out of context discussion, and coming to this specific case, what i just felt was that it would have been sounder if the “your client” and “you” had been interchanged in the last line of response. That was more or less the pincher to me.

    Lastly, I too hope that ‘those of my ilk are vested with a little more sense and sensibility and the notion (foolhardy perhaps) that we are not mere automatons at the beck and call of a lousy client!’ 🙂

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.