“Vulgarity and Profanities do not per se amount to Obscenity,” SC while quashing FIR against the creators and lead cast of the ‘College Romance’ web series

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While hearing the Apoorva Arora vs. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) case, where an FIR was filed against the creators (TVF Media Labs Private Ltd.) and lead cast of the web series ‘College Romance’, for publishing obscene and sexually explicit material, under Sections 67 and 67A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act), the Supreme Court (SC) quashed the criminal obscenity case stating that ‘vulgarity and profanities do not per se amount to obscenity’. The matter was heard by a two-judge bench of the SC consisting of Justice AS Bopanna and Justice PS Narasimha on March 19, 2024. The SC bench set aside the judgment of the High Court and said that the HC erred in analyzing and examining the language used in the web series, ‘College Romance’. It observed, “While a person may find vulgar and expletive-filled language to be distasteful, unpalatable, uncivil, and improper, that by itself is not sufficient to be ‘obscene’. Obscenity relates to material that arouses sexual and lustful thoughts, which is not at all the effect of the abusive language or profanities that have been employed in the episode. Rather, such language may evoke disgust, revulsion, or shock. The reality of the High Court’s finding is that once it found the language to be profane and vulgar, it has in fact moved away from the requirements of obscenity under Section 67 of the IT Act. The High Court failed to notice the inherent contradiction in its conclusions.” 

The SC bench added, “When we notice the use of such language in the context of the plot and theme of the web series, which is a light-hearted show on the college lives of young students, it is clear that the use of these terms is not related to sex and does not have any sexual connotation. Neither did the creator of the web series intend for the language to be taken in its literal sense nor is that the impact on a reasonable viewer who will watch the material. Therefore, there is a clear error in the legal approach adopted by the High Court in analyzing and examining the material to determine obscenity.” While answering the question, “Whether the material is ‘sexually explicit’ for the purpose of Section 67A?” The SC said that the HC had not given any reason whatsoever on how Section 67A is attracted to the facts of the present case. It added, “The facts of the present case certainly do not attract Section 67A as the complainant’s grievance is about excessive usage of vulgar expletives, swear words, and profanities. There is no allegation of any ‘sexually explicit act or conduct’ in the complaint and as such, Section 67A does not get attracted.”

After hearing the contentions or arguments, the SC of India quashed the FIR stating that no offence of publication or transmission of any material in electronic form, which is obscene, lascivious, or appealing to prurient interest, and/or having the effect of tending to deprave and corrupt persons, as provided under Section 67 of the IT act, was made out. Equally, no case of publication or transmission of material containing sexually explicit acts or conduct, as provided under Section 67A of the IT Act, was made out. The bench, therefore, set aside the judgment of the HC and quashed the FIR registered on 16.04.2023 under Sections 67 and 67A of the IT Act against the appellants.