Pianist asks U.S. newspaper to purge review in latest “right to be forgotten” controversy

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Credit: Susie Knoll

Dejan Lazic is an Austrian pianist who has made a name playing as a soloist at major venues around the world. He also appears to have very thin skin.

Last week, he wrote the Washington Post, instructing the paper to remove a review titled “Sparks but no flame” that described a tepid debut performance by Lazic at the Kennedy Center in 2010.

The Post explains that Lazic is upset that the review “has marred the first page of his Google results for years,” and the story’s headline says the pianist invoked his “right to be forgotten” —  a new law that allows Europeans to demand search engines remove listings that are outdated or irrelevant.

In this case, Lazic’s request is absurd: the European law applied only to search engines like [company]Google[/company], and not to news sites themselves. What’s more, the law is not supposed to apply to matters of public concern such as, presumably, a concert. So the Washington Post review, and the Google listing for it, are not going anywhere.

But the fact that Lazic even attempted to use the law to scrub the review is revealing. It suggests that the “right to be forgotten,” under the clumsy definition of the European courts, is ripe for abuse by powerful people who want to stifle criticism and rewrite history.

Lazic, meanwhile, is already backpedaling. He has published a blog post saying that “of course” he knew that the right to be forgotten didn’t apply to U.S. newspapers, and that he “merely mentioned” it in his request to the Post.

At this rate, there is cause to worry that the “right to be forgotten” is already becoming a back door tool to censorship. Like copyright law, which is regularly abused by those who want to delete online content, the EU law could lead websites to simply comply rather than face a potential legal headache.  For now Google and sites like the Post are having none of it, but that could change as the takedown requests pile up.

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