Kerala High Court seeks State Police response to plea against ‘review bombing’ of movies by internet vloggers

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The Kerala High Court on Friday sought the response of the State Police Chief on implementing protocols to ensure that action is taken on those who post derogatory and calculated moviee reviews on the internet about movies with an intent to purposefully tarnish the reputation of a movie and its team [Mubeen Rauf v Union of India & Ors.].

Justice Devan Ramachandran paased the order on a petition moved by Mubeen Rauf, the director of the film “Aromalinte Adyathe Pranayam” that highlighted the harmful impact on the film industry due to the unrestrained negative criticism by vloggers.

He filed the petition seeking the High Court’s intervention to protect the film industry’s integrity and livelihood.

Justice Devan Ramachandran opined that the matter is a serious one and directed the Government Pleader to obtain specific instructions from the State Police Chief as to what steps can be taken to ensure that the movie industry is not subjected to denigration on account of the actions of a few people, whose intent is extortion and blackmail

“The State Police Chief, through the learned Government Pleader, will also inform this Court as to if an individual or an entity can file a complaint against such activities, including unlawful and motivated ‘Review Bombing’; and the modus for such, leading to the manner of investigation and its conclusion, apart from other suggestions. It must, however, be specifically kept in mind by the State Police Chief that, what he is now being called to respond to, is regarding action only in the cases of motivated and calculated reviews made solely to extort and blackmail; and not those which are made bona fide,” the Court said.

The Court also emphasised that the protocol has to be carefully thought out, in order to ensure that reviews made in good faith are distinguished from those made with malafide interests.

The petition argued that there is an organized racket, particularly online, for deliberately denigrating and tarnishing a movie with the intention of unjust enrichment, coupled with blackmail and extortion.

Advocate Shyam Padman, whom the court had appointed as amicus curiae submitted that he has sufficient materials to establish that there people with vested interests who think that they can ‘make or break movies’.

“Every movie is an intellectual property. Apart from being so, it also entails reputation, sweat, blood, and aspirations of several people, not merely the producers, lead stars, or the directors,” Justice Ramachandran observed.

The single-judge opined that even though the right to free speech is inherent and constitutionally guaranteed, it has to be tempered with reason and restraint as per Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India.

There is a difference between fair criticism and an attempt to blackmail and extort a film and its team, the Court stated.

“A fair criticism of an intellectual property – be that a movie or otherwise; in contradistinction to a pernicious attempt to blackmail and extort, are two different aspects, which have to be clearly distinguished and dealt with distinctly,” the Court said

The Court went on to urge regulatory authorities to implement measures so that directors, producers or other persons associated with movies can make complaints to trigger a proper investigation under the penal law and under the laws relating to cyber crimes.

The issue will be considered next on October 10.

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