Sunday, December 19, 2004

Sex clip on auction portal nets unwitting CEO

India still has quite a way to go before our laws will be in tune with the times. The recent example of www.baazee.com illustrates this.

The backgrounder: A schoolboy shot his girlfriend in an act of oral sex on his cellphone camera. He sent the MMS clip to his friends, who sent it to theirs... and soon, the video clip was available for s small price with every roadside vendor. A enterprising IIT student put the clip up for auction on India's top auction website Baazee (which is now owned by ebay). Baazee pulled the clip as soon as they realized its nature, but police arrested the CEO, Avnish Bajaj. More on the story here

No one in their senses believe that baazee is to be blamed. However, try telling that to the police - who acted well within the law which states that the CEO would be responsible for all content on the website.

Ebay has expectedly reacted with outrage, and even Condoleeza Rice seems to have put in a word with the Indian government. eBay said Bajaj was voluntarily helping in the probe of a seller who advertised a pornographic video, which was not shown on the site. The Indo Asian News Service said Bajaj was arrested under the Information Technology Act, which bans online trading of porn, and he faces five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 rupees ($2,279).

In Express Newsline, Pawan Duggal, a cyber laws expert said that "This case is going to be a landmark in the way Internet businesses are conducted in the country."

Public sympathies seem to be with Baazee.com as everyone seems to understand that it is not possible for an auction website to verify everything offered by all sellers for any possible violation of law.

But if Avnish Bajaj does not manage to extricate himself and the portal from this case, this case could turn out a blow to many online businesses. Discussion boards, blogs, chat rooms - all could end up being the responsibility of their respective CEOs.

Now that would be a real-word as well as PR disaster for online businesses in India.

Only hope - the courts generally know a bad law when they see a case like this. That's the only hope for now. Our sympathies, meanwhile, lie with the baazee.com CEO.

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