MusicBrainz and the "right to be forgotten"

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It appears that artist intent/statement is also to be followed when the artist is not wanting to be on MB and invokes the European Union “right to be forgotten” privacy law.

Though exactly what that would mean if, for example, Prince had decided he wanted to be forgotten, moved to Europe and asked to be removed from the database is not clear.
Special purpose artists [anonymous] & [unknown], might need to be increased to [forgotten].

Though I wonder if deceased people have the right to be forgotten?
I suspect not.

I’m no lawyer, but I do know a little bit about the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, which includes the right to be forgotten.

The right to be forgotten is not absolute, and there are exceptions. For example, the Regulation states (emphasis mine):

However, the further retention of the personal data should be lawful where it is necessary, for exercising the right of freedom of expression and information, for compliance with a legal obligation, for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller, on the grounds of public interest in the area of public health, for archiving purposes in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, or for the establishment, exercise or defence of legal claims.

I wonder if the MetaBrainz Foundation has asked its lawyers for an opinion on how to handle this.


It would be hard to be forgotten if I can still walk into a store and buy your album.

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True, but that is increasingly rare these days.

My understanding is that they have and that the legal people have taken a cautious approach that allows for forgetting.

Though having read the bolded phrase and subsequent phrases in your reply I now wonder why they formed the view that MB is not excepted.

Yes, I’ve had quite a few conversations over this topic and it is a complex nuanced one that is going to evolve over time. From what I understand right to be forgotten cases fall into two cases for us:

  1. “Factual data that is not personally identifying” falls under the clause of “archiving purposes in the public interest”. We will reject requests to remove this sort of data, but if a person can reasonably argue that they might come to harm because of us having the data, we will take this data down.

  2. “Factual data that is personally identifying”, primarily birth dates. If a person in our database requests that we remove this data, we are required to comply.

And you can see that “come to harm” is a laughably vague concept, which requires us to evaluate each situation on a case by case basis. But, let me give two examples for this:

  1. A person used to perform in a certain type of band (e.g. Brony [0]) and this fact is causing them to be bullied later in life. We had a “person Joe Blow performed as Brony King on…” type of relationship. We agreed that in order to help out, we removed the link to Joe Blow, but kept the data on the brony band.

  2. A person used to be married to someone else and now has gotten a divorce and is bitter about the divorce. Now they wish to expunge all records of their marriage and demand that we remove the link stating their marriage. This person is just angry about having been in that marriage but could not demonstrate that this was causing them harm and we did not remove the link.

In these cases we need to make a judgement call on whether or not we consider this a reasonable request and possibly that if we do not comply that this person could come to harm. The situation is so vague to be nearly unworkable, but we have no choice but to act accordingly until future court cases further clarify the situation.

My understanding is that our current operations, including artist intent, are legally defensible and reasonably informed about the current laws that apply to us.



In the case of the birthday you would not keep just the year? The year has significant academic value in timeline searches. Do you have to wait for them to die before restoring the birthday or is it gone for good?

If a living individual manages to eradicate there birthday presence from all public forms can it be added back when the are deceased? Could the rights holder to the deceased block adding it back? If the rights holder to the deceased could block but allow it for a “price” would that be legal?

I realize what I asked may seem silly but there is a lucrative market in suing over intellectual property and when you look at Gracenote and other paywall “projects” what is to stop a “public” individual from making a deal to put all their “public” data behind a paywall and making people pay to access it.