WhiteHatJr vs WhiteHatSr: Defamation Or Fair Criticism?
Six-year old Wolf Gupta bagged a Rs 20-crore package from Google, claimed the edu-tech company WhiteHatJr that offers online coding lessons to children. The marketing was hard to miss given that the company’s ‘Code Big Dream Big’ message filled the advertising slots during the Indian Premier League.
Pradeep Poonia, a software engineer, decided to take a closer look at the company’s claims. Calling his accounts WhiteHatSr, Poonia went on to post videos and comments on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn against WhiteHatJr.
From the social media platform, the battle has now moved to the Delhi High Court.
Karan Bajaj, founder of WhiteHatJr, has accused Poonia of defamation, trademark infringement, hacking and breach of privacy. Poonia denied any wrongdoing, citing right to fair criticism. Poonia has accused WhiteHatJr of running false ads and compared the company to a ponzi scheme.
For now, the high court has granted an ad-interim injunction in the favour of WhiteHatJr and Bajaj. Poonia has been directed to stop using the name WhiteHatSr for his YouTube channel and commenting on teachers engaged by the platform.
Defamation Vs Fair Criticism
In his over 800 pages defamation suit, Bajaj accused Poonia of launching a systemic and highly defamatory attack since September 2020. Bajaj has also made allegations of illegal acts against Poonia which include:
- Hacking into the internal communications platform of the company and gaining access to confidential employee communications, including those with parents (customers) and putting them up in the public domain.
- Tutoring a minor to attend the classes on WhiteHatJr with the aim of harassing the teachers as well as recording the video of the classes without consent.
- Openly boasting of his intentions to shut down the business of WhiteHatJr.
- Displaying private employee information including their mobile numbers and hacking into the company’s system.
Bajaj has asked for Rs 20 crore in damages, and has also objected to the use of the name WhiteHatSr by Poonia claiming trademark infringement.
In reply, counsel for Poonia argued that he was well within his right of fair criticism and that there was no infringement of copyright by him in any manner, reported LiveLaw. During the hearing, he also denied downloading the curriculum from WhiteHat Jr or distributing it to third parties.
Poonia also accused the company of false advertising by showing a fictional character who lands a job with Google. Poonia's lawyer said that the company takes down comments which are critical of them from social media.
Matter Needs Detailed Hearing: Delhi High Court
The Delhi High Court noted that there is a need for a detailed hearing of the case. The court observed that there is an ongoing debate on the increasing number of online classes, but there is a difference between healthy discussions and defaming an individual.
The court also questioned Poonia over putting employee numbers in the public domain and frowned upon certain remarks made by him.
Who is stopping you from a healthy discussion? They have a registered trademark. You are saying that their teachers are housewives, are you saying they are uneducated persons? How can you be so derogatory towards them? Of course this is defamation.Justice Mukta Gupta’s observation reported by LiveLaw
The court has asked all the parties to file their replies within three weeks and rejoinder within the next two weeks.
It has also granted an ad-interim injunction against unauthorised access to WhiteHatJr’s international communication platform and barred Poonia from displaying any such communication on his social media accounts. He’s also been directed to restrain from commenting on the number or quality of teachers of WhiteHatJr.
The case will come up for hearing next on Jan. 6.