A pianist’s live stream went viral after a group of Chinese people insisted he obscure their faces.
The confrontation escalated into shouting as the pianist protested and the group grew irate.
Brendan Kavanagh told BI he was filming in a train station and had a right to stream in public.
A confrontation between a group of Chinese people and a pianist in a London train station has gone viral on YouTube.
Pianist Brendan Kavanagh, who has around 2.19 million subscribers on YouTube, started a live stream with a cameraperson on Friday at a public piano in St. Pancras International station.
“Very very cold in London today, it was like minus four. But somebody’s put purple balloons on the piano so all is well,” Kavanagh quipped before starting to play.
A group of about six people can be seen in the background of the video, holding flags of the People’s Republic of China and yellow sheets of paper. One of them, a woman, stepped forward with her phone to film Kavanagh as he played in tandem with another pianist.
As his fellow pianist took over to play solo, Kavanagh asked another woman in the group if she would like to dance to the music, but she declined.
Minutes later, Kavanagh was approached by the group. The ensuing 10-minute interaction was all caught and broadcasted on Kavanagh’s live stream.
“We are here filming for Chinese TV, did you film all of us in your cameras?” asked the woman who had filmed him.
Business Insider could not immediately verify her claim that she works for Chinese TV.
Kavanagh said he wasn’t sure if his camera had captured their faces. “We’re not allowed?” he asked.
“We’re not allowed because we’re for Chinese TV,” the woman replied.
Kavanagh protested, saying he was live streaming in a public place.
A man in the group told him they were protecting their rights to their “voice and images,” later adding that the group had “an agreement with other people” not to show their faces online.
The man went on to threaten to pursue legal action.
Kavanagh kept arguing. “We’re in a free country, we’re not in Communist China now, you know?” he said.
“I’m sorry, this is racist now,” the man responded.
When Kavanagh reached for a flag one of the women was carrying, the man began shouting at him to not touch her.
‘You’re not their private security agent’
Two police officers arrived soon after, and the group explained their grievances.
“You’re in a public place,” one of the officers could be heard telling them in the live stream. “If they’re filming they have the right to do it in a public place.”
The other officer told Kavanagh to stop filming and that he was “not allowed to put this on your YouTube channel because this is a police matter.” Kavanagh’s cameraperson continued to film.
Police then spoke with the group away from the camera. Later, the officer who told Kavanagh to shut down his live stream returned.
She said the group had requested that Kavanagh not use footage of them on his YouTube channel. “Because there’s money being made, they work for a company, and their faces can’t be shown on TV or somebody’s channel,” the officer said.
Kavanagh refused. “You’re not their private security agent,” he said.
The officer also said the group accused Kavanagh of making racist comments and said he had tried to indecently touch one of them.
“Listen, they are waving a Communist flag and I said you’re waving a Communist flag,” Kavanagh said. “Is that racist?”
Kavanagh’s encounter goes viral
Kavanagh told BI the group may have been offended when he mistakenly called them a Japanese TV crew early in his live stream.
The YouTuber said he knew a friend who was filming nearby with a Japanese TV station and had initially assumed the Chinese group was also under the same team.
His video had been watched 3.5 million times of Monday evening, three days after the live stream ended. It has also gone viral on X.
Clips of the encounter were posted on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform, where the group has also been criticized.
Kavanagh said it was ironic that by attempting to remove their images from his video, the group had gone viral instead. “This is a classic Streisand effect video,” he said, referring to when a person trying to hide from the public eye becomes more prominent through their efforts.
Kavanagh said online backlash has also been directed at the officer who told him to stop filming.
“I think her behavior was totally out of order,” Kavanagh said.
The British Transport Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment from BI.
UK law permits people to film in public and police do not have the power to stop them.
Kavanagh also doubled down on his stance that he did not make controversial remarks toward the group.
Personal image rights have recently been a flashpoint in China after a former state enterprise executive went viral in June for being filmed holding hands in public with a woman who wasn’t his wife.
China’s civil code states that each person holds the legal right to their image and likeness, which cannot be published online without their consent. No such blanket protection exists in the UK.
Kavanagh showed BI an email from YouTube stating that a privacy complaint was made against his video and that its content would be reviewed.
“But now millions of people have seen it,” he said.
The Chinese Embassy in London and Google did not respond to requests for comment from BI.
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