Can Artificial and Dead Persons be defamed in India?

They are persons as a fiction of the law. The word “persons” includes both a natural and a fictitious or an artificial person. Section 499 provides that it may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons.

Section 499, which defines defamation, lays down that whenever any word either spoken or intended to be read or by sign, etc. makes or publishes any imputation concerning any person, intending to harm or knowing or having reason to believe that the imputation will harm the reputation of such person, is said to defame that person.

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This part of the section makes defamation in respect of an individual an offence. But Explanation (2) to the section lays down the rule that it may amount to defamation to make an imputation concerning a company or an association or collection of persons as such.

A defamatory imputation against a collection of persons falls within the definition of defamation. The language of the Explanation is wide, and therefore, besides a company or an association, any collection of persons would be covered by it.

But such a collection of persons must be an identifiable body so that it is possible to say with definiteness that a group of particular persons as distinguished from the rest of the community was defamed. Therefore, in a case where Explanation (2) is applied, the identity of the company or the association or the collection of persons must be established so as to be relatable to the defamatory words or imputations.

Where a writing attacks mankind in general or a particular order of man, e.g., man of town, it is no libel. It must be descended to particulars and individuals to make it defamation. If a well-known class is defamed every particular member of that class can file a complaint if the defamatory imputation does not mention him by name (Explanation 2 to Section 499).

The language of Explanation 2 is general and any collection of persons would be covered by it. That collection of persons must be identifiable in the sense that one could, with certainty, say that this group of particular people has been defamed as distinguished from the rest of the community.

The complainant in this case related to a particular scene in the picture in question which depicted some orthodox section of the Brahman community uttering contemptuous words against the Bhangi community in general. It was held that the words did not amount to defamation of the Bhangi community much less against the complainant personally; the impugned scene was general in nature and was not directed against any individual who could be identified or particularised.

A notified area, a Municipal Board and a bank are persons and they can be defamed. But scope of a complaint by a corporation is not the same as that by an individual. A Municipal Board per se has hardly a reputation.

If the management is good, it will be said that the Board is being run efficiently. But if the management is bad there is bound to be accusation of inefficiency and nepotism, etc. If a person makes an imputation so as to cause any special injury to the property of the Board, the Board can maintain a complaint for defamation.

But where the minority in a Board attacks the majority party for inefficiency such an attack does not amount to defamation.

Can Dead Persons be defamed in India?

A dead person ceases to be a person in the eyes of law. He is no longer a natural person and there is no question of inventing a legal fiction about him. Explanation 1 does not provide for the defamation of a deceased person. The defamation contemplated therein relates to the effect of the statement concerning a deceased on the living members of the family.


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