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December 20, 2004

eBay executive jailed over obscene listing

The recent arrest of Avnish Bajaj, the CEO of eBay Inc's Indian shopping portal site Baazee.com, has industry and business leaders worried about the impact on India's booming technology sector.

By CBR Staff Writer

Bajaj was arrested after the Indian Website allegedly listed an obscene pornographic video clip shot at a school in New Delhi. The seller offered to email the clip to the highest bidder on the Indian eBay site.

The maker of the video, a 17 year old boy, and the seller, an engineering student, have both since been arrested.

Bajaj, an Indian-born US citizen, is reported to have voluntarily traveled to Delhi over the weekend to cooperate with police investigations before he was held for a week without bail.

The US State department is said to be closely tracking the developments of the case. A US consular official is reported to have attended a court hearing.

eBay officials in the US protested the jailing of Bajaj saying in a statement that it was outraged by the arrest and calling it completely unwarranted. While eBay admitted that the listing did violate Bazee.com’s policies, it highlighted the immediate steps taken to remove it from the site following its discovery.

Bajaj’s arrest is likely to re-ignite a debate in India over responsibility for the electronic publication and distribution of obscene material. Under Indian law any sex video is classified as obscene.

Local industry officials argue that India’s Information Technology (IT) Act of 2000 is ambiguous on the issue of accountability. But police reports indicate that Bajaj was arrested directly under the 2000 Act, which cites publishing, transmitting, or causing to publish any information in electronic form, which is obscene, as a criminal act.

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Some legal experts however argue that a network or Website provider cannot be held responsible for an e-offense if it took appropriate steps to prevent it after being informed.

Bajaj’s arrest also has Indian industry leaders worried about the impact on the technology sector which has now created more billionaires than any other industry in India so far. In the wake of Bajaj’s arrest, industry leaders urged a tightening up of the IT Act.

India is poised to ride on the crest of an expected Internet boom and leaders fear Bajaj’s arrest could dissuade foreign investment in business opportunities. We want to ensure that we don’t send out the wrong signals to global customers and investors, Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software Services Companies, told the press.

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