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Freedom of the Arts

Georg Huber und Barbara Rainer

In Aus­tria, free­dom of the arts is a basic right gua­ran­te­ed by the con­sti­tu­ti­on. This means that in princip­le the sta­te may not restrict neit­her methods, the con­tent nor trends in artis­tic acti­vi­ties. The dif­fi­cul­ty is that art is a “dyna­mic term sub­ject to chan­ge over time”, which means that a defi­ni­ti­on of “art” is not pos­si­ble (and also isn’t desi­ra­ble). So what or who divi­des “art” from “non-art”? Qua­li­fy­ing some­thing as “non-art” would mean the loss of the con­sti­tu­tio­nal pro­tec­tion. An examp­le is the “dege­ne­ra­te art” pro­hi­bi­ted in the Third Reich.


To avoid the­se dif­fi­cul­ties and thus any judgment regar­ding art by the sta­te, the defi­ni­ti­on of “art” is open. Basi­cal­ly, it inclu­des every form of art, regard­less of whe­ther it is gene­ral­ly con­si­de­red as being art or not. Apart from the tra­di­tio­nal art gen­res such as visu­al arts, lite­ra­tu­re, music etc., uncon­ven­tio­nal art forms (e.g. hap­pe­nings, land-art or graf­fi­ti) are also inclu­ded. Con­se­quent­ly the hap­pe­ning at Vien­na Uni­ver­si­ty in 1968 tit­led “Art and Revo­lu­ti­on” went down in art histo­ry, alt­hough the average man pro­bab­ly didn’t see it as being art at the time.

It is just this open defi­ni­ti­on of art that allows “revo­lu­ti­ons” in art and lea­ves room for new deve­lo­p­ments, sin­ce art gen­res that are not social­ly reco­gni­zed are also enti­t­led to con­sti­tu­tio­nal pro­tec­tion. Art forms that may be con­tra­dic­to­ry to the spi­rit of the times must not be pro­hi­bi­ted or pre­ven­ted. The­re­fo­re, the scope of this con­sti­tu­tio­nal right can­not be defi­ned by the term “art”, but essen­ti­al­ly only by its limi­ta­ti­ons. Even artis­tic free­dom has its bounds. Whe­re­ver art encroa­ches on the rights of others or on other con­sti­tu­tio­nal rights, the­re are limits. Of cour­se, inte­rests always have to be weig­hed when the­se limits are set and a (gene­ral) sup­pres­si­on of spe­ci­fic artis­tic move­ments must not be the result.

Art is also sub­ject to gene­ral law. This means that a pia­nist could be fined for “exces­si­ve noi­se” for inces­sant prac­ti­cing, pro­vi­ded that the right of a neigh­bor to quiet out­weighs the right of the pia­nist to artis­tic free­dom. This can only be deci­ded on a case to case basis. In the cases of sati­re and cari­ca­tu­re the right to digni­ty stands against the right to artis­tic free­dom. Sati­re and cari­ca­tures are forms of art that High­light injus­ti­ces by dis­tor­ting and exa­g­ge­ra­ting rea­li­ty. Howe­ver, they must not go so far as to vio­la­te the essence of human digni­ty or the ent­i­re public image and repu­ta­ti­on of an indi­vi­du­al. The “Böh­mer­mann” case, which also invol­ves the right to free­dom of opi­ni­on, is a good example.

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Dr. Georg Huber, LL.M. ist Partner der Innsbrucker Rechtsanwaltskanzlei Greiter Pegger Kofler & Partner. Er hat in Innsbruck und Chicago studiert und ist sowohl in Österreich als auch New York als Rechtsanwalt zugelassen. Zu seinen bevorzugten Tätigkeitsgebieten zählen unter anderem IT- und IP-Recht, wobei er sich auch immer wieder mit urheberrechtlichen Fragen befasst.

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