Civil Liberties

Pianist Thinks He Can Use 'Right to Be Forgotten' Law to Remove His Bad Reviews, Accidentally Outs Himself as a Thin-Skinned Censor Instead

Dejan Lazic discovers the Streisand Effect.


Europe's "right to be forgotten" law, which lets people force search engines to scrub away links to certain sorts of embarrassing information, has produced several free-speech horror stories already. Now it's given us this:

"Hmm," he thought. "I wonder if there's a way I can make people forget the actual performance, too."
Channel Classics Records

The pianist Dejan Lazic, like many artists and performers, is occasionally the subject of bad reviews. Also like other artists, he reads those reviews. And disagrees with them. And gripes over them, sometimes.

But because Lazic lives in Europe, where in May the European Union ruled that individuals have a "right to be forgotten" online, he decided to take the griping one step further: On Oct. 30, he sent The Washington Post a request to remove a 2010 review by Post classical music critic Anne Midgette that—he claims—has marred the first page of his Google results for years…."To wish for such an article to be removed from the internet has absolutely nothing to do with censorship or with closing down our access to information," Lazic explained in a follow-up e-mail to The Post. Instead, he argued, it has to do with control of one's personal image—control of, as he puts it, "the truth."

If the right to be forgotten actually worked like that, this would be its worst free-speech horror story yet. Instead, it's more of a horror for Lazic's reputation. Mike Masnick lists some of the ways the pianist has misunderstood both the law and the likely effects of his request:

1. The [E.U.'s right-to-be-forgotten] ruling only applies to "data controllers"—i.e., search engines in this context—and not the publishers themselves. That was clear from the ruling.

2. The ruling applies to search engines in Europe, not newspapers in the US.

3. The ruling is not supposed to apply to people in the public eye, so famous world-traveling musicians don't count.

4. The purpose is to remove outdated information, not things like a review of a performance.

5. It most certainly is not, despite Lazic's stated belief, supposed to be about letting someone control "the truth" about themselves.

6. Because of all of this, the lukewarm review of Lazic's performance from 2010 is getting lots of new attention.

7. Because of all of this, Lazic's views on censorship, free speech and his own personal reviews is now widely known.

I suppose that's one silver lining to Europe's ridiculous rule: It's a honey trap for would-be censors to expose themselves—at least as long as they don't understand the law.