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I have been contacted by an individual with a request to remove their name from an article our journal published two years ago. The individual was identified as a Culture and Foreign Language Advisor of the U.S. Army; their post location (city) was also mentioned. This person claims that the author of this article did not asked their permission to include their name in the article, and did not give informed consent to do so.

Is this a valid request? I mean, it may be valid ethically as it may put this person and their relatives at risk, by associating their name with a military program, but since two years have passed since publication and our journal is open-access, this article has been archived on a number of other sites we do not control. So, the info is already out there, no matter how we proceed. Do you think this is also a legal problem? (The journal is located in Central Europe)

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    So... do you have a signed copyright transfer agreement from this person? If yes, then the author can't very well claim that he was never asked whether he wanted to appear on the paper. Plus, many journals explicitly have prospective authors sign a document agreeing to publication, regardless of copyright transfer. Conversely, if you do not have such a copyright transfer document signed by the author, I don't understand what your point 2 is there for. Voting to close as "unclear what you are asking." May 16, 2016 at 18:08
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    Wait, does their person want their named removed as an author of the article, or does their name appear in the article in which they were not an author, and they want that appearance removed? May 16, 2016 at 18:13
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    Just for clarification: the individual in question is not listed as an author. Their name appear in the main text of the article, and they want that appearance removed, but they are not listed as an author.
    – HunSoc
    May 16, 2016 at 19:19
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    Is "Culture and Foreign Language Advisor of the U.S. Army" a fancy way to say "spy"? May 16, 2016 at 21:27
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    Would the EU court's finding of a 'right to be forgotten' have a bearing on this situation? Is the person mentioned a public figure that the article discusses? May 16, 2016 at 22:39

4 Answers 4

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This seems like an unreasonable request to me. The copyright to the text rests with the publisher, and the "moral rights" with the authors of the paper. I don't think anyone who is mentioned in the article has a legal right to request removal from the article. Certainly, this would morally require consent from the authors.

In general, I do not think that there is a legal right to not have one's name mentioned unless that violates state secrecy rights (think, the name "Valerie Plame" appearing in newspaper articles about the CIA). If the local newspaper mentioned my name in the context of the local cycling club, then this seems to me to be a fair use of their journalistic priviledge that I can not reasonably challenge.

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    Perhaps this is a comment on semantics but almost everyone has a legal right to request almost anything from everybody. Certainly the army officer can legally request his/her name be removed. However,j I don't think the authors have a legal obligation to in any way act upon the request - not even to acknowledge it.
    – emory
    May 16, 2016 at 23:03
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    @emory, there's a big difference in having the right to ask and having the right to be removed. The latter doesn't appear to exist in any jurisdiction I'm aware of.
    – Bill Barth
    May 17, 2016 at 0:27
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    @emory -- I think we agree that that's semantics. You have the right to demand. But you don't have the right to expect that the other side complies. May 17, 2016 at 4:08
  • It seems pretty clear that naming someone as an advisor to the U.S. Army falls much closer to the 'Valerie Plame' situation than to the 'member of a local cycling club' situation. You may not have a legal obligation to remove the information, but you certainly could have a moral one in some situations. And, in those situations, no, you certainly should not have to get the consent of the author who violated the person's privacy (and potentially, their safety) without their permission (you should probably tell the author, but you wouldn't need their consent in that case.)
    – reirab
    May 17, 2016 at 6:19
  • @BillBarth: "the right to be removed. The latter doesn't appear to exist in any jurisdiction I'm aware of." - it appears this right does exist in Germany (source only in German); in case of a dispute, a per-case decision has to be made on whether the personality rights or the public interest in disclosure are more important. May 17, 2016 at 11:18
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It is not clear on what basis the individual in question is asking for his name to be removed from a paper written by other people. Assuming your Central European country has freedom of speech protections more or less similar to the U.S. and Western Europe, people generally can't go around telling other people what to write or publish. Even information that potentially puts military personnel at risk is frequently published in newspapers when there are compelling reasons to do so. And in any case, given what you've told us it's impossible to estimate how credible the claim of putting this person at risk is.

So, when you ask if this is a "valid request", I would say yes, but only in the sense that he has a right to request that you remove his name; and you have a right to refuse. At least this is my not-completely-conclusive impression given the somewhat vague information you've provided.

Now, if you want to be extra nice and comply with the request, ethically speaking (and possibly legally speaking) you would probably have to get permission from the authors of the paper. As an author, I would be very upset if a journal editor decided to change the content of a paper I published without getting explicit approval from me.

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    As a practical matter, it is impossible to meaningfully comply with the request. Are we going to assume that all ISIS subscribers are going to send in their old journals for the names to be redacted. As a legal matter, if the officer's identity was a state secret, redaction would be legally required. If the publisher did not feel they could change the content of your paper, they would have to redact the entire paper. Your approval implicit or explicit would be unnecessary.
    – emory
    May 16, 2016 at 23:15
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There's probably nothing to be done here in the US, but I'd check with your journal's in house or general counsel. If the authors have stated true facts about a real person that they obtained through legal means, then they and you are probably in the clear. I'm not a lawyer or your lawyer, but in the US, the publication of facts is pretty liberally allowed by law.

As a courtesy to the Army guy, you might ask the authors to submit a revised version that removes his name, but you probably have a First Amendment right not to go down that slippery slope if you want to stand on principles.

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    Note that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, like the rest of that document, has zero applicability outside the U.S.A. May 16, 2016 at 19:39
  • @DavidRicherby he never said that he was referring to the U.S. Constitution. Other countries can also have first amendments of their own...
    – Dan Romik
    May 16, 2016 at 19:41
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    @DavidRicherby, which is why my answer is labeled "US" as much as possible. The OP can feel free to ignore it if they aren't associated with any US entities at their own leisure. There seems to be some US-iness to it since the offended person is a US Army service member or is identified as such.
    – Bill Barth
    May 16, 2016 at 20:02
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    @DanRomik: The term first amendment itself is pretty much meaningless without the U.S. constitution context. But even when considering equivalent constitutional laws from other jurisdictions, different countries may place different relative weight on the freedom of speech vs. individual personality rights such as the right to control usage of one's name. May 16, 2016 at 22:12
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    @DanRomik: It is generally not a good idea to attempt sarcasm on the Internet, since sarcasm only works if the recipient knows you well enough to have some reason to believe that you did not sincerely mean what you said. Or, to misquote a famous cartoon: on the Internet, nobody knows you're not an idiot. May 16, 2016 at 23:13
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If this person was interviewed and was aware they were being interviewed then it's safe to assume that choosing to provide information was an agreement for it to be published unless explicitly requesting anonymity or for certain things not to be repeated.But yes there is potential for legal trouble because military bodies are not always fair and rational and have ties with top people in other governments. However it is unlikely. Your only option is to omit any street addresses and names identifying this person individually and then tell them that it won't change the fact that the information remains unchanged and untouchable in the www.

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