Webcomic Takes a Stab at Indian Online Content Laws

by Joe Izenman

Only a few months have passed since political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi faced charges of treason for mocking the state. But that hasn’t stopped at least one webcomic artist from taking a sarcastic Mother’s Day shot at Indian Parliament’s year-old amendments to their Information Technology Act, which introduced an extraordinary set of restrictions and punishments for a broad range of online content violations.

Indian webcomic Crocodile In Water, Tiger On Land—a self-described purveyor of “below-the-belt cheap shots in comic form” has this to say in “thanks” to India’s lawmakers:

The legislation’s intent was to protect online intermediaries — such as ISPs, and content providers like social networks and hosting services — from corporate liability, provided they perform due diligence on user content. However, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation describes, the amendments’ primary weakness is in their “overbroad scope”:

They require intermediaries to adopt terms of service that prohibit users from hosting, displaying, publishing, sending or sharing any proscribed content, including not just obscene or infringing content, but also any material that threatens national “unity” or “integrity,” “public order,” or is that “grossly offensive or menacing in nature,” “disparaging,” or “otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever.”

The laws require immediate takedown of the offending content, and no legal recourse is provided to users for damages due to content pulled by an overzealous or overcautious intermediary.

Complainants in the case of Trivedi, whose site cartoonistsagainstcorruption.com was pulled in January (you can find his current site here), insisted that while politicians are fair game, national symbols such as the flag and the constitution are not. In this context, Crocodile’s message to the responsible MPs seems unlikely to draw legal repercussions. But given the breadth of interpretations available for “threats to national unity,” anything seems possible.

The webcomic’s creators have also made use of their sudden notoriety—they’ve drawn the attention of Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing and other well-viewed aggregators—to draw attention to an active online petition against the restrictive laws.

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Joe Izenman is a freelance writer and musician in Tacoma, Washington. He owns a lot of comics and he’s pretty sure someone, somewhere would be offended by more than a few of them.