Wednesday, October 12, 2005

IIPM Saga - What Constitutes Libel?

So, there has been the much famed IIPM Controversy that everyone's been talking about. What is it? Well, to put it simply, IIPM is yet another of those institutes that seems to promise the world to future candidates, which is quite far fetched from the grim reality. Of course, when you promise the world, sooner or later, someone is bound to take you to task, or at the very least raise an eyebrow or two. Rather than re-tell an old tale, I'll just paste what transpired from the Wikipedia entry on IIPM:

In 2005, a youth magazine named JAM, edited by Indian blogger Rashmi Bansal, did a story exposing some of the claims made by IIPM. Gaurav Sabnis, a popular Indian blogger, linked that article. Three months later, IIPM threatened to sue Gaurav for libel if the said postings were not removed from his blog.

When Gaurav refused to remove his postings, in a bizzare move IIPM contacted his employer, IBM, and allegedly threatened to publicly burn the IBM Laptop Computers they had purchased from IBM unless the posts were removed. IBM is yet to confirm this alleged threat. Gaurav stated that IBM did not pressure him to remove the blogpost, but he decided to quit his job, as he did not want IBM to suffer bad publicity through his actions. This has generated spontaneous support for Gaurav from bloggers. On 11 October, 2005, IIPM became the highest ranked search term on Technorati.

Most of the Desi Blogosphere stood by Rashmi Bansal and Gaurav. Desi Pundit, a popular medium for Indian Blogs mobilised the Desi blogosphere to publicise the issue, stating that it was a litmus test for freedom of speech. IIPM contends that it is not an issue of free speech but an issue of libel.

On October 11, 2005, IIPM emailed Varna Sri Raman, a blogger who had been posting on the ongoing controversy, and asked her to remove all posts related to IIPM or face legal action. The email sent to Varna was almost identical to the email sent to Gaurav Sabnis.

Quite simply, it's amusing. Now, forgive me - but I happen to have been quite acclimated to lawyers and legal environments, having several family members, friends (including girlfriends *shudder*) in the legal profession, and having taken the odd law class or two hoping that they would aid my entrepreneurial ventures. Libel - that term is defined when someone is portrayed in bad light, at which point it is believed that the action was defamatory in nature. But usually, factual statements must be false to be defamatory. Firstly, in this case, the burden of proof lies upon IIPM to prove that it was indeed libel, so IIPM needs to prove that the said statements were indeed false and were indeed harmful (latter would be easier, former would not be). Secondly, quite often, statements of opinion (i.e. it is my personal belief that IIPMs are scumbags who run a sham institute and are in bed with Michael Moore the Devil) - statements which cannot be proven true or false will likely need to apply some other kind of defense, that are not factual. To this end, I believe both Rashmi and Gaurav have supplied varied points that are quite valid and inclusive. Thirdly, it is usually necessary in these cases to show that there is indeed a well founded public interest in (defamatory) information being widely known - which definitely is true in this case. Fourthly, the courts usually give the benefit of the doubt to people being tried. That is, they are usually presumed to be innocent until the prosecution can prove guilt of the perpetrator beyond a reasonable doubt that there was indeed libel (in criminal law), or if the plaintiff can show liability and accountability on a balance of likelihoods that there was libel (in civil law). And finally, there needs to be malice or what is known as "reckless disregard". When there are several blogs all over the place that are popping up claiming this, it stops being an act of malice perpetrated by one person or even a group - it becomes more of a demand to know the truth - it is journalism of sorts. In fact, the way IIPM and its students have behaved goes on to show that they have exhibited behavior that is quite ripe with malice and malintent. While I'm amazed at the fact that IIPM acted so stupidly, I'm even more amused at the competence of their lawyers. It does not take a J.D. for a person to see that they do not have a case, so why even bother with such allegations? Psst! Back to vacation mode, sorry - couldn't resist commenting upon seeing the whole IIPM thingy blown so much out of proportion!