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Bloggers beware: You're liable!

By Vijayendra Mohanty in Mumbai
Last updated on: May 03, 2006 14:02 IST
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Even the most ardent of bloggers would be hard pressed to find a set of guidelines, or a convincing enough definition for the craft of blogging.

Those bent upon it however, may decide to settle the matter by calling blogs 'no more than a medium'. As more and more bloggers are taken to court over things they have written, the need for that elusive set of guidelines becomes ever more pressing. Recent years saw blogs doing a lot. They exposed scams, they broke news, they enabled the coming of a truly participative age on the web. The news media, one of whose pet obsessions is itself, took up the issue with gusto.

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Many set to prove that most of what came on to the web in form of millions of blog posts every day was indistinguishable from noise and hence under no circumstances comparable with proper journalism. The fight worked up quite a storm so to speak. When the storm subsided the media and blogs were in such a tangle the world is still trying to make one out from the other.

But seriously, does the public space that one is blogging in, render one's choice of subject inconsequential? Does the fact that one is writing for himself or herself allow the blogger to surpass the entire line-up of traditional editorial hurdles that the more mainstream publishers are 'trained' to get used to? All in all, it would seem that the sheer force and potential of the medium are enough to grant it a set of standards of its own. Standards that would defy definition by those used to the kind of control that makes the regular publishing world tick.

Does a blogger get to shrug off questions on propriety of content and the like? Journalists never get to do that. The difference perhaps lies in the fact that while a journalist is backed by the newspaper/ channel/ magazine he works for, a blogger has only his own name to hide behind (sometimes not even that -- although a pseudonym is an advantage at times). Journalists are out in broad daylight. Bloggers can choose to stay in the shadows and do the good (or dirty) work. None of this however means that a blogger is beyond the reach of the law.

Pavan Duggal, Supreme Court lawyer and cyberlaw expert, makes a vital point, "A blogger has to be aware of the fact that both he and the blogging service provider (eg:,, are network service providers within the meaning of Section 79 of the IT Act 2000.

External link: A Blogger's Code of Ethics

"In India, network service providers are made liable for all third party data or information made available by them in most cases."   In other words, in the authorities' eyes a web service is not much different from an Internet Service Provider and can be made answerable for the contents of its users' blogs. This does not necessarily translate into negatives.

Duggal says, "Every blogger must exercise due diligence for limiting his liability. If a blogger is writing about some other party or is dealing with third party information, he will have to be better aware that he would be liable for the same.

"Thus, there is an onus of proof on the blogger and the blogging site to exercise due diligence in respect of their blogging activities. Such diligence would include taking a balanced view and not presenting a one-sided picture.

Popular blogger Gaurav Sabnis agrees, "If a blogger keeps shooting his mouth off, and is irresponsible, then people won't believe his blog. It's the classic case of the boy who cried wolf." He simplifies the responsibility issue further by telling us what he does himself, "I do not write lies on my blog, and that has nothing to do with any authorities. I just don't want to write lies. Lying is wrong, and lying about someone else publicly is libel."

Duggal notes however, "There is nothing in Indian law, which categorically refers to blogs and bloggers. I don't see any specific legislation coming in this regard. This is because blogs and bloggers are not priority areas for the government. The government has yet to wake up to the potential impact of blogging as a phenomenon."  

Strange as it may sound, that is good news of sorts. India has a surprisingly low number of regular bloggers. About 40,000 people, by a rough estimate, post at least three times a week to their blogs. A majority of them are diarists chronicling their own lives. The few who do the journalist thing on their blogs are more or less off the media watchers' radar.

Perhaps the 'mainstream' tag is something the Indian blogosphere can live without for now.
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Vijayendra Mohanty in Mumbai