Delhi HC’s Decision To Remove YouTube Videos Alleging Cancer Risk From Pulse Candy; Implications On Free Speech
In a recent case before the Delhi High Court, Dharampal Satyapal Foods Ltd., the well- known manufacturer of various food products alleged that a video posted online about their popular “Pulse” candy, was false, defamatory, and contained objectionable claims like the candy could cause cancer.
Justice Prathiba Singh noted that the video lacked factual basis and had been uploaded on YouTube, spreading panic among Pulse candy consumers and adversely affecting sales. Thus, the Delhi High Court ordered the defendants to remove the video from YouTube. However, the Court clarified that if the defendants had any genuine, fact-based information to share about Pulse candy without sensationalizing it or relying on third-party, scientifically verifiable test reports, they were free to do so.
Dharampal Satyapal Foods Ltd., contended that several videos uploaded by the defendants falsely portrayed Pulse candy as a cause of cancer. Pulse candy is a hard-boiled flavoured candy filled with salt and spices, and it falls under the brand name “Pulse” adopted in 2013 as part of the “Pass Pass” umbrella brand. The product had also received certification and licensing from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI).
The contentious video was uploaded by one of the defendants on YouTube with the title “Harmful Effect of Pulse Toffee.” The plaintiff asserted that the video contained baseless, defamatory, and objectionable allegations against their product, “Pulse,” and that these claims were untrue. Consequently, the plaintiff issued a cease-and-desist notice to the defendant to take down the video. However, the defendant only made the video private without deleting it, and other defendants later re-uploaded the video on their channels, causing damage to the plaintiff’s reputation and brand name.
Analysis & Court’s Decision
The Court emphasized the preservation of the “Right to Freedom of Speech” but noted that communication of verifiable facts based on credible test reports should not be restricted. Sensationalizing such facts, especially when it may create unwarranted panic and baseless fear, particularly about products authorized by relevant authorities, should be avoided. The Court referred to the case of Mother Dairy Foods & Processing Ltd. v. Zee Telefilms Ltd., where it was stated that if the defendant could establish a justification, no interim injunction could be granted. However, if there were signs of malicious intent or sweeping comments with broader implications, such injunctions would be permissible. The Court recognized that certain videos might raise awareness about products in the consumers’ interest, although they might also be influenced by ill intentions or competitors. Therefore, each case required specific examination to determine whether an injunction was warranted.
In this particular case, the Court observed that if the main party involved, had acknowledged that the video was misleading, then no one else would be allowed to repost the video or a shorter version of it. As a result, the Court ordered the removal of the questioned videos. However, the Court clarified that the defendants were free to upload factual videos related to the plaintiff’s Pulse candy without exaggeration and with scientifically verified test reports, if such content existed.
The Court directed the defendants, including any unidentified defendants, to remove the videos from the date of the court order. In case the videos were not removed within 48 hours, the plaintiff would provide the URLs to ‘Google LLC,’ which would be responsible for their removal within 72 hours. Furthermore, the Court instructed Google LLC to disclose the identity, basic subscriber information, and account registration details of all video uploaders.
Implications For Free Speech & Online Content Regulation
The significance of freedom of expression in democratic societies remains undeniable. However, in the digital age, it has introduced new complexities. Freedom of expression empowers individuals to share ideas, engage in open discussions, and contribute to public opinion. In the digital realm, this right has gained even more importance, offering individuals a global audience and democratizing the spread of information, thus allowing marginalized voices to be heard.
Nonetheless, the proliferation of fake news, hate speech, and harmful content has raised concerns about the unregulated spread of misinformation and its potential to incite violence and hatred. The introduction of regulations to oversee digital content raises questions about the potential infringement on free speech. Critics argue that vague language in these regulations, such as “public order” and “decency,” could be manipulated to suppress dissenting voices and stifle political discourse, inadvertently turning them into tools for censorship rather than promoting responsible governance.
As societies navigate this complex landscape, striking a balance between freedom of expression and the regulation of digital content becomes essential. Achieving this balance necessitates thoughtful consideration of both rights and responsibilities. While guarding against the spread of harmful content is crucial, it should not come at the expense of silencing diverse voices or hindering legitimate public discourse. The digital age offers an opportunity to re-evaluate and adapt existing frameworks to the evolving communication landscape, ensuring that fundamental freedoms are preserved while addressing the challenges posed by the online environment.