A blog on why norms matter online

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Shut up" Affair Highlights Challenges to Privacy and Freedom of Expression Online

Screenshot from the song "Kohlhauserby König Leopold (c) YouTube


"Holt die Goschn" is Eastern Styrian (an Austrian dialect) for "shut up". Three months ago, the Vienna-based band "König Leopold" pulished a song based largely on a mash-up of comments, spoken by band members, that made by a real butcher, Mr. Kohlhauser, from a small village in Eastern Styria.

The song, "Kohlhauser", is available on YouTube and has only recently caused "troubels" when Mr. Kohlhauser (who apprently lives in the same village as the grandmother of a band member) engaged a lawyer to sue for 10 cents for each YouTube view of the video. 

He felt that his proivacy had been violated and indeed what the band has done is not unproblematic. Of course, they have the right to take inspiration for their artistic products from what they see and perceive (and one assumes that they heard Mr. Kohlhauser say, inter alia, "Holt die Goschn" during a visit at this butcher shop). Yet the band says now that the "Kohlhauser" in the song is a fictional character. 

That argument won't really wash because it is an identifiable person. Yet the whole affair showcasts again the challenges of ensuring human rights protection online. 

I've given an interview on this subject to the Austrian Press Agency (APA) and two quality journals have since picked up the story. You can read it in Der Standard [in German] and in Die Presse [in German].

My key points: 

Using a person who is not a person of public interest in an identifiable way in a song without getting their consent is problematic as it violates their privacy. This is distinct from the question whether there should be consequences under penal law for the authors of the song. 

Austrian media law does provide for the possiblity of penalties, but the treatment of youTube videos for the purposes of media law is not yet clearly ajduciated. 

What the case shows, however, is that anyone who has had information about them published online has to be very careful and how they go about the fight against that information. Don't freed the trolls! Don't start a legal fight against a largely unknown band. If Mr. Kohlhauser hadn't engaged a lawyer and started to talk about suing the band, the Austrian media would not have reported on that story. The video was already uploaded three months ago. What benefit can there be for Mr. Kohlhauser? He has started a low-key "shitstorm".

It is different, however, when it comes to undoubtedly illegal pictures, including non-consensually published nude pictures. Then, the server administrator should be immediately contacted, lawyers should be engaged, the police should be notified. 

What the story also shows is that we need to raise awareness regarding the limits of protected speech online and the balance to be struck between artistic freedom and privacy protection.

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