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Open letter on on-line rights infringements

The HFHR has submitted an open letter discussing the growing number of cases where irreverent contents using the image of private individuals are posted online without a person’s consent. Bearing in mind the social importance of the problem, the Foundation called for a reflection on the way discussions are conducted on-line, the nature of contents posted by private users and the obligations of intermediaries who facilitate their publication.

The freedom of expression entails liability, the limits of which are defined by an obligation to respect the dignity of another human being.

The entries (with comments) using an image of a private person without a person’s consent are often ironic, virulent and insulting. Some of the media reports from last year included a case of a fictitious blog of Ms Grażyna Żarko, who became a victim of malicious comments of internet users and a case of “Andrzej”, a police officer whose image was used in many ironic and satirical graphic pictures. The most recent is the case of a participant of the Christmas Eve Supper held by the municipal authorities in Radom who was featured in a number of memos and community portals in an explicitly unfavourable and offensive context.

The Polish law affords victims a limited capacity to respond in such cases. Due to the fact that the only effective mechanism is a notice and takedown procedure contained in the Electronic Services Act which allows for the blocking of contents once the infringement notification has been made, it is entities which act as intermediaries in the transfer of information that should have a crucial part in preventing such infringements. The specificity of the way in which information is disseminated on the internet and in particular the speed at which any data are multiplied along with a great number of websites on which they are posted makes it impossible to erase them from the web once and for all. Therefore intermediaries should demonstrate above average sensitivity to any signals and notifications alleging the infringement of the rights of individuals.

The freedom of expression involves the obligation to exercise judgment and responsibility with respect to posting any web contents or making any on-line comments. Curtailing this phenomenon, whose inconvenience is well illustrated by an expression “Human Flesh Search” coined by Chinese internet users, requires, first and foremost, that we respond to any cases of infringement of personal interests by reporting the infringing contents to the web administrators.

Victims of the internet violence have limited capacity of responding to similar incidents. Accordingly, it is necessary for all interested parties to collaborate to effectively prevent and mitigate the consequences of similar situations.

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