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“Commercial speech” is a part of the freedom of speech and expression but malicious falsehood cannot become freedom of speech: High Court of Delhi

Court will not restrain the publication of an article even though it is defamatory when the defendant says he intends to justify it or to make fair comment on a matter of public interest. The public at large has a right to receive the “Commercial speech”. “Commercial speech” is a part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the constitution. While engaging in advertising one’s own products, care is to be exercised to avoid disparagement of another’s products of the goodwill and reputation built by a competitor. Malicious falsehood cannot become freedom of speech and the same was upheld by High Court of Delhi through the learned bench led by Justice Asha Menon in the case of FIITJEE LIMITED vs. VIDYA MANDIR CLASSES LTD. & ORS. [CS(OS) 656/2021] on 16.02.2022.

The facts of the case are that the plaintiff is a company registered under the Companies Act, 2013, constituted in the year 1992 for the purpose of imparting quality education to students. Over a period of time, on account of hard work put in it has been declared to be India’s number one coaching institute for Engineering Entrance Examinations in 2019.

The grievance that has led to the filing of the present suit is a video that has been uploaded on YouTube by the defendant which contained falsities. The defendant is seen in the video suggesting that the plaintiff misled the parents as it was focused only on making money, while at the same time ill-treated its teachers by not paying salaries and so on. It was also claimed that there is a Central Bureau of Investigation case against the plaintiff. The plaintiff, therefore, seeks remedy against the defendant for defamation and abuse.

The plaintiff’s counsel submitted that the intent of the video was retribution borne out of malice. It was further submitted that no CBI case was pending against plaintiff. The use of contemptuous words in the video was highly offensive, particularly when the plaintiff and defendants were in the same field of business and were competitors. The counsel submitted that the offending video had to be taken down as its continued circulation would cause much loss of reputation to the plaintiff.

The defendant’s counsel submitted that apart from the interim reliefs sought are materially the same as the final reliefs sought in the plaint, except for damages, and therefore, cannot be granted. It was further submitted that every word in the video cannot be looked into at this interim stage to determine whether they constituted defamation or not.

While the defendants established no harm would be caused to the plaintiff if the video remained, the Court held that it cannot be compensated through award of damages and the Court was of the view that the defendants will have to take down the aforementioned sentences in the video, depicting the plaintiff as a set of criminals.

The Court observed, “Court will not restrain the publication of an article, even though it is defamatory, when the defendant says he intends to justify it or to make fair comment on a matter of public interest. The public at large has a right to receive the “Commercial speech”. “Commercial speech” is a part of the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1) (a) of the constitution.”

Click here to read the Judgment

Judgment reviewed by – Shristi Suman

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