Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The NATCO Defamation Petition

As reported in Legally India and Bar and Bench, the pharmaceutical company NATCO has brought a defamation suit against Shamnad Basheer claiming that the blog he runs - Spicy IP - ran a blog post that defamed the company.  Shamnad is a co-blogger on Law and Other Things and a personal friend.  I am out of the country currently and have not had a chance to discuss the case with Shamnad, but I felt so disturbed after reading the articles that I thought some comment was necessary. 

The linked articles describe the allegations.  I do not know any of the details of the case besides those described there and do not wish to speak about the merits of the case (I will leave that to Shamnad and others who seem to be already making a powerful defense and will likely make NATCO regret bringing the case). 

I can say though that one of the major obstacles I see to the development of a stronger legal academy in India is free speech.  I have had friends tell me that they had not written articles for the media that concerned certain companies - despite feeling strongly that they should - because they feared a defamation suit like the one Shamnad now faces.  I remember one rather banal op-ed I wrote a couple years ago was first accepted and then ultimately not published by two prominent Indian newspapers.  In both instances an editor at the paper told me that after accepting the piece they became concerned that the judiciary might hold them in contempt for publishing it.  I ultimately published the op-ed in the US. 

Self-censorship has become a norm both for authors and the media in India to the detriment of being able to have rich and honest legal debates.  In any debate, positions might become distorted or misrepresented by either side.  This is the cost of a free society.  And the cost is well worth it.  It is in the free exchange of ideas that a community becomes stronger and that the truth - whatever it is - comes out.  If the media and bloggers cannot comment on ongoing cases out of fear of a lawsuit (particularly if the case involves a large company who can hire expensive lawyers) then everyone loses.

The legal academy in India is in actuality quite small, despite the country's large size.  As any reader of this blog will know there are few places one can turn for good in-depth analysis about current cases in the courts.  Spicy IP has been one of the leading forums for such analysis.  Today it is under attack.  That should concern everyone who cares about the legal academy and free speech in India.
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