White Hat Jr gets a partial gag order against Pradeep Poonia who now has to defend a ‘hacking’ charge as well

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White Hat Jr gets a partial gag order against Pradeep Poonia who now has to defend a ‘hacking’ charge as well
White Hat Jr
  • White Hat Jr has charged Pradeep Poonia of hacking and trademark violation aside from defamation.
  • After a court hearing on November 23 (Monday), Poonia will have to take down some of the tweets as a part of an ad interim injunction.
  • The battle in court between White Hat Jr and Poonia is the culmination of a long online battle fought between the two.
Pradeep Poonia will have to take down some of the tweets, especially those accusing White Hat Jr of being a ‘ponzi scheme’, other unsubstantiated charges, after an ad interim injunction from the Delhi High Court in the case filed by the startup founded by Karan Bajaj, bought out by peer Byju’s recently for $300 million. The edtech firm has also charged Poonia for hacking into the company’s servers, which Poonia’s counsel has denied.

It is not a final decision in the case. The court will hear both sides in the next hearing scheduled on January 6, 2021. “This court finds that the grant of an interim injunction in the present suit entails decisions on various disputed questions of fact,” Justice Mukta Gupta said, inviting Poonia to submit an affidavit in response to the charge.

Under the ad interim injunction, Poonia has been restrained from:

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  1. downloading and distributing directly or indirectly White Hat Jr’s curriculum or study material through his own channel or third party channels.
  2. hacking or any unauthorised access to internal communication platform Slack and displaying it to the world at large.
  3. commenting on the number or quality of teachers on White Hat Jr’s without sufficient details about the teachers’ education or their professional backgrounds.
  4. using the name White Hat Sr for the YouTube channel and some of the videos displaying proprietary content or internal communications will have to be taken down.
Poonia has also been directed by the court to take down tweets which have unsubstantiated claims regarding White Hat Jr.

The battle in court between White Hat Jr and Poonia is the culmination of a long online battle fought between the two. Poonia has been an open critic of the edtech startup’s promises and its workplace ethics, over various social media platforms – LinkedIn, YouTube and now, Twitter.

White Hat Jr has now charged Pradeep Poonia of hacking and trademark violation, copyright infringement aside from defamation and claimed damages worth $2.6 million. The court has recognised that while the defendant has the right to criticise the platform but also that “some lines have been crossed” in the process.

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Over the last few months, White Hat Jr has forced suspension of Poonia’s LinkedIn accounts, his YouTube videos and more.

But the platform has faced criticism for its aggressive marketing. Even the lawyers for White Hat Jr admitted that some of the marketing content may have been a “gimmick”. This was in reference to the advertising character Wolf Gupta which Poonia has called misleading and a fake advertisement. White Hat Jr’s lawyers said that “...perhaps it was a bad idea. We have taken it down.”

The judge Mukta Gupta also left room to debate whether teaching young children coding is a good idea or whether the business model is an “EMI trap”, as accused by Poonia. The judge said that there are enough arguments on both sides on children being taught coding as well as the pressures of online learning.

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It is important to note that the Indian government’s recent changes to the National Education Policy included the introduction of coding at a young age in schools. “His issue with us is ideological. He wants education to be free. I appreciate that. But I don’t see him going against other private schools,” White Hat Jr’s lawyer argued.

The tougher challenge for Poonia will be to prove that there was no ‘hacking’

White Hat Jr has levelled a serious accusation of hacking against Poonia. Over the last few months, Poonia has shared screenshots of White Hat Jr’s team chats on Slack to call out the startup’s marketing practices, lapses in the organisation’s culture, and in the process shared the private numbers of teachers on Twitter and thus compromising their privacy.

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However, Poonia’s lawyer argued that there was no hacking and employees of White Hat Jr contacted Poonia to share the details.

But the stance taken by the edtech firm is that any unauthorised, whether it was through hacking or through an employee sharing his/her credentials, it would be unlawful. “He put up the password of the CEO on a public forum. He did a live stream after hacking into the system for the entire weekend,” the lawyer said.

On Saturday (November 21), Bajaj sent an email, which was seen by Business Insider, to his employees reminding them of the confidentiality clause in their contract and asked them not to disclose any confidential information or share their login details with any third party.

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This is likely to be a prolonged legal battle. “Delhi HC refused to grant a sweeping injunction against me as #WhiteHatJr wanted in their 20 Cr suit. They keep trying to silence dissent and have failed. AGAIN! Thanks to all of you who supported me! Let’s continue to fight for transparent and ethical biz practices ,” Poonia said in a tweet (sic) right after the court hearing.

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