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Danisch v. MDR: Clash of the Titans

Godgam
MDR (right) has the full power of broadcasting behind it (see tower). Danisch, on the left, is armed only with time, a fast Internet connection, and a ZFG attitude.

One of the most amusing and distinctive voices on the German blogging scene is Hadmut Danisch. He studied computer science for years but didn't get a doctorate. He is convinced that this was because of a conspiracy against him. He has documented this conspiracy in a book called Adele and the Bat (Adele und die Fledermaus) (g) which you can download from his website.

The book is 797 pages long.

That should probably give you an idea of the fanatical dedication Danisch brings to his projects. Danisch also doesn't like gender ideology, mass immigration, university bureaucracy, and a few other things, and has written copiously about them.

Now, I've never met Danisch and I don't read his blog regularly. I do check in once in a while, and am never disappointed. You could call Danisch a bit of a crank because of his obsessive tendencies. But he's a highly intelligent, dedicated crank, and unlike most cranks has a sense of humor.

Which makes his latest feud, with the German MDR public broadcasting agency, so fun to read. The background, in a nutshell: The right-wing AfD political party hosted an event at the University of Magdeburg. Students there decide to try to prevent this exercise of freedom of expression by blocking the entrance to the lecture hall, interrupting the presentation and even hurling fireworks. The protest degenerated into a fistfight (g). The AfD speakers had to be escorted from the room under police protection, which they termed a complete success for their cause, as it surely was. As we can see, the odious trend of no-platforming has reached Germany.

Danisch used large excerpts of several MDR articles to comment on these events, and shortly thereafter received a warning letter from a lawyer claiming to represent MDR and the author of one of the pieces. The letter accused Danisch of all manner of sins, including using copyrighted material without permission and painting a false picture of MDR's reporting of these events. The letter demanded that he sign and return a cease and desist agreement within days.

This sort of thing is depressingly typical in Germany, especially against bloggers who have no powerful institutional backing. German law provides outstanding protections for freedom of speech on paper, but in reality there are all sorts of doctrines, from the law of insult to an over-broad interpretation of intellectual property, which can be used to intimidate critics whose statements are well within the bounds of freedom of speech. Many bloggers, confronted with a long letter from a lawyer citing dozens of statutes and legal decisions and threatening € 250,000 fine, will sheepishly delete the blog entry and sign the cease-and-desist order.

As you might have guessed, Danisch is not that kind of blogger. Instead, he puts on his lawyer hat (g) and mounts a thorough critique of the warning letter, invoking everything from legal precedents on the fairness of short deadlines to the amenability of the plaintiff to service to the lawyers' ethical creed to the latest interpretations of copyright and free speech laws. There's even a long and instructive disquisition on whether someone who gets a warning letter from a lawyer is allowed to post it online. His overall point is that the MDR and its reporters have zero legal grounds to object to his free-speech commentary, and that their lawyer is simply trying to intimidate and confuse a critic with bogus legal arguments: "They wanted to neutralize (kaltstellen) me."

I'm not going to tell you to read the whole thing, because it goes on for a loooooong while, and even I haven't had the time to read it all. But even a brief overview leaves you with the impression that MDR really screwed with the wrong guy here. I'll be waiting for the next stage in what promises to be an epic battle.

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