The challenge for celebrities seeking right to be forgotten
Celebrities often find themselves in a difficult situation where because of their apparent special status, their right to be forgotten applications to Google, to remove from search results links to unwanted online posts, is being turned down.
Broadly speaking, there is a presumption that where an individual is in the public eye, their right to be forgotten submission should be turned down. The main reason for this is the apparent public interest that exists in individuals who are public figures and therefore should be subjected to a higher level of public scrutiny than most people.
The other reason why applications for a right to be forgotten by celebrities are often turned down is that it is often assumed that they had placed the information they are now wishing to have removed had put themselves into the public domain by, for example, agreeing to news promotions, giving interviews and consenting for their image to be used in a public manner.
Generally speaking, it is harder to demand information that you placed yourself in the public domain to be removed, and this is in order to avoid situations where celebrities try to manipulate the type of information that is published about them, or in other words, to allow them to pick and choose what information about them the public can see and what information should be concealed from public sight. You can read more about the reasons for a right to be forgotten.
There are plenty of examples of a celebrity who successfully removed posts from the internet under a right to be forgotten. It all depends on the circumstances of each case, the time of the publication of the unwanted online posts and the personal and legal reasons for the removal request. Under data protection law, Google must consider every case independently and on its own merits. Google cannot just tell a celebrity or a public figure that because they are famous, their right to be forgotten request must be turned down.
An example of a successful application under a right to be forgotten by celebrities, is the case of Suzanne L.
It was nearly 13 years since Suzanne took part in the then popular television show Big Brother. At the time, she was under 20 year’s old and very keen to pursue a career in the media and entertainment. Suzanne's appearance turned out to be impressive. She stayed in the Big Brother House until the very last stages of the show and once evicted she did a number of photo shoots, including topless, with her images being published in the UK and abroad.
Since then, her images had been disseminated on the internet and have become widely and freely available on dozens of websites. Suzanne has moved on, went to university and pursued a career, unrelated to the public profile she had pursued in her early years. In other words, she no longer wanted to be a celebrity.
In 2013, Suzanne got married and a year later she gave birth to a beautiful boy. Whilst previously she tried to pretend her images were not there, it was pointed out to her by friends and other parents that her semi-nude images could become a real problem for her son, making him a subject of bullying and depriving him from social activities.
Unfortunately for Suzanne, the copyright for most of the images did not belong to her. She was therefore unable to enforce it under copyright law. However, having dealt with similar cases to hers in the past, our right to be forgotten lawyers advised her on her rights under data protection law, as well as about rights that her children might have.
Following a number of communications with newspaper editors, we were able to persuade them to remove some of the most damaging news articles. We then communicated with various website operators, and succeeded to have the majority of her images removed from the internet, from websites across the globe. With the renaming images, we made applications under a right to be forgotten to the relevant search engines. Anyone who ever tried to remove images from Google with a right to be forgotten knows how challenging this task could be. However, with the co-operation from the right people at Google and Bing, the removal of dozens of images from the search results and online libraries became possible.
Convincing search engines to agree to an application under a right to be forgotten by celebrities, always presents a special challenge. To succeed, the lawyer and the celebrity must be able to overcome a number of presumptions that go against them. The legal arguments that we put to the search engine provider must be very specific to the celebrity's circumstances and the way we tell the story should reflect on the way she feels about the ongoing publications. In a way, the more famous you are, the stronger the impact of adverse online publications is on you and on your loved ones.