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“”That Spanish man is Mario Costeja Gonzalez. This is his photo, which was on an article from the New York Times about his crusade to remove links mentioning his debts from 1998. In doing so, he is now world famous for being that Spanish guy with debts from 1998. The only thing I know about him is the only thing he didn't want me to know.
The Streisand effect is an Internet-coined name (although the effect predates the popular usage of the Internet) for a phenomenon whereby an attempt to censor or gag a report leads to great interest in the story or work that nobody would have noticed had they not attempted to ban or censor it in the first place.
Some people have proposed that it be called Streisand's Law on account of how inevitable the effect is.
The term was coined in 2005 by Mike Masnick, founder of the Techdirt website after an incident that started in February, 2003, when Barbra Streisand's lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter to the California Coastal Records Project regarding the inclusion of a photo of her Malibu beach house on its website. When the website operators rejected that letter and a followup letter, Babs sued. On 3 December 2003, the Los Angeles Superior Court issued a statement that they were dismissing the suit.
The previously not-famous CCRP website includes more than 12,000 overlapping aerial photos of the entire California coastline (with the exception of the area around Vandenberg Air Force Base), plus a collection of about 55,000 additional photos that currently date back to 1972. Few people would have seen, or cared about, this one photo of Barbara Streisand's house had she not sued. However, as a result of the trial and its notoriety, this photo has spread across the internet and shows up on any article about the Streisand effect.
Blogs and injunctions
In the modern world of blogs, there are no shortages of such examples, as blogs have become a main means whereby people speak out, and often have a network of friends or collaborators just waiting to get pissed off — if one is censored, it will quickly be picked up by another. Censorship is obviously seen as an assault on free speech, and it is usually this aspect that attracts the attention, rather than the nature of the story itself — indeed, many of the stories are downright boring compared to the ensuing shitstorm about censorship.
So-called "gag orders" and "super injunctions" are designed by courts to limit the effect. These orders prevent the press not just from reporting an incident, but also from reporting or hinting that they've been prevented from reporting it! These are often used in privacy or libel battles, but if overturned or lifted, the Streisand effect is free to come out in full force. Indeed, it often comes out in fuller force thanks to the nature of the super-injunction's limits on free speech. Applying for, and failing to achieve, a super-injunction in court often leads to greater publicity for a scandal.
- Pick any banned book and there's a good chance the Streisand effect came into play at some point. Indeed, some bookstores and libraries make a point of displaying and promoting banned books during "Banned Books Week," and attempts at suppressing some books turned them into best-sellers. Notable examples include Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses and former MI5 officer Peter Wright's Spycatcher.
In popular culture
- Every year, PETA submits an over-the-top TV advertisement intended to run during the Super Bowl, usually with highly sexually-suggestive content. Every year, the network refuses to run the ad, making it an instant hit as people flock to view it on the web just to see what the fuss is all about. This illustrates the ways in which pressure groups and fringe groups might understand the Streisand effect and manipulate it to their advantage. This may not always be to a good end; for example, the controversy over the once-obscure The Turner Diaries eventually led to its being reprinted by a mainstream publisher and sold in major bookstores for several years in the 1990s.
- The centerfold of the May 1967 issue of Paul Krassner's The Realist consisted of The Disneyland Memorial Orgy poster, which depicted virtually the whole copyrighted Disney pantheon engaged in sex or drug acts. According to Krassner, "the Disney corporation considered a lawsuit but realized that The Realist had no real assets, and besides, why bother causing themselves any further public embarrassment?"
- An unusual case of this is Escape from Tomorrow, a movie set in Walt Disney World that is darkly satirical of Disney's culture and was filmed on location without permission. Disney's track record of aggressive copyright and trademark litigation as a method of silencing criticism gave the movie a very high profile after its Sundance premiere. Disney ultimately chose not to press charges, perhaps understanding that they were unlikely to win and attempting to block it from distribution would only add digits to the viewer and revenue counts. In an interesting twist, Disney even acknowledged the film's existence in their official literature.
- Famously, in the Harry Potter series, an important plot point of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: when an issue of the Quibbler with an interview with the main character (about the hushed-up return of antagonist Voldemort) is banned by Dolores Umbridge (a Ministry-appointed teacher/inspector), Hermione Granger is ecstatic, saying: "Don't you see? There was no better way of ensuring that everyone would read it!".
- The first Internet example was the Church of Scientology's attempts to suppress the Fishman Affidavit (which contained Church-copyrighted versions of Operating Thetan levels I-VII) in late 1995, which promptly resulted in hundreds of copies going up around the world.
On the Internet
- The YouTube video "YouTube vs The Users" by vlogger Thunderf00t was often promptly taken down and the accounts hosting it were suspended by the site, often without warning. As a result, the video was mirrored in dozens of accounts, some of them sockpuppet accounts, and hosted elsewhere where YouTube had no power. The video has now been viewed millions of times rather than the mere few thousand views that it would have obtained if left on Thunderf00t's channel.
- In a slight twist to the Streisand Effect (i.e., actually preventing it), the Twitter-mirroring website Tweleted (now defunct) stated that it can't and won't make exceptions and filter out individuals:
I can't add an exception without creating an 'exception list' … which would be visible to any user with mild amounts of technical experience, and instantly make your own history much, much more interesting to them. I can also guarantee that if I did censor the results, someone would, within hours, set up an 'uncensored' version of Tweleted explicitly designed to search — and advertise — those users on the exception list.
- A far more morbid example was the 1976 album Virgin Killer by the German rock band Scorpions, whose original cover art depicted a naked pre-pubescent girl with her genitalia censored out by a faux-glass shatter graphic. This naturally did not sit well due to child pornography concerns, so an alternate cover art with a photo of the band was used instead. The controversy resurfaced in 2008 when a Wikipedia user uploaded the cover art in question, prompting the Internet Watch Foundation to block the Virgin Killer article as the organisation deemed the file to be illegal. Both the IWF and Wikipedia were criticised over its handing of the matter (a similar controversy over the Wikimedia Foundation's hosting of questionable content depicting minors was raised at some point only for Jimmy Wales to have the risque media purged), and the Virgin Killer row only served to pique the curiosity of those intrigued by what was going on rather than suppress that particular piece of kiddie porn. The IWF relented shortly after, after realising that the album cover, while indeed obscene, was used more for the sake of scholarly discussion and commentary than to sate the craving of many a depraved paedophile.
- In 2009, Texas Instruments sent DMCA notices to hackers who factorized the 512-bit RSA cryptographic keys needed to write custom firmware to TI devices. The hackers initially complied without consulting a lawyer, and TI sent further notices to websites who mirrored the keys, including United-TI (a fan forum for hacking TI calculators), Reddit, and Wikipedia. In response, Dan Goodin from The Register alerted the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who came to the hackers' aid and offered to provide legal services to them pro bono. TI eventually gave up on their hunting spree, apparently realising that it only brought further attention to the hackers' cause.
- In December 2013, a YouTube channel by the name of "ghostlyrich" uploaded a video about his Samsung Galaxy S4 phone catching fire. Three days after this video's release, Samsung sent him a letter asking him to remove the video and never upload any video relating to Samsung again. The video's views shot up instantaneously from a few thousand to nearly a million.
- Similarly in October 2016, YouTuber Modded Games (now known as Mafia Game Videos) uploaded a video of a Grand Theft Auto V mod replacing the game's sticky bomb weapon with a 3D model of a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 as a satirical nod to the phone's exploding battery issues. Samsung took umbrage and issued a DMCA takedown notice to the uploader, but not without generating controversy, as the takedown notice was seen as a draconian misuse of the law, and only served to bring further attention to the mod; the video was reinstated shortly after. And although Samsung sought legal action against people uploading gameplay videos of the Note 7 mod, it has not targeted websites hosting the mod itself, strangely enough.
- In 2023, the team behind the GameCube and Wii emulator Dolphin announced that they will be releasing said emulator on the Steam platform, likely spurred from the popularity of the Steam Deck and its use as a portable game console. Nintendo objected and pre-emptively requested Valve to halt its distribution from Steam, playing the victim card and vilifying emulators as "illegal" conduits for piracy when pressed for details as to why they filed a cease-and-desist, despite unofficial emulation having already been deemed legal per Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. v. Bleem, LLC. As a result of this, Google searches for Dolphin have surged either out of curiosity or from those who want to hoard the latest emulator release in case the Big N goes after the emulator itself.
- A brief injunction against UK newspaper The Guardian regarding a fairly boring story about an MP raised the profile of the story across the Internet, with freedom of speech objections swamping most of Twitter. Guido Fawkes and The Spectator also reported the story, giving it far more prominence than it would have achieved if left alone.
- The Interview, a 2014 Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy, criticized and ridiculed the North Korean "Dear Leader" Kim Jong Un and imagined his assassination.[note 1] The North Koreans tried to censor it, threatening terrorism against venues screening the movie and (possibly) orchestrating a large-scale hack of distributor Sony Pictures' servers (allegedly; it's complicated), which led Sony to cancel its release after a number of major theater chains balked at showing it. Even though the film was getting mixed reviews beforehand, North Korea's reaction made The Interview into a cause celebre for anti-censorship activists. A limited release of The Interview online and in select theaters became an immediate, very profitable smash hit.
- Jan Böhmermann, a German satirist, published a music video, Erdowie, Erdowo, Erdogan, mocking Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his human rights record. This led to the Turkish government throwing a fuss, summoning the German ambassador, and calling for the criminal prosecution of Böhmermann using an outdated German law protecting monarchs from criticism, which the German government initially cowered to. This only led to greater awareness of Böhmermann's video, and the case was eventually scrapped, and the Lèse-majesté law was abolished.
- Hasan Minhaj, a comedian who runs the show Patriot Act, ran an episode on Saudi Arabia in which the episode criticized the Saudi Arabian regime and the USA's lack of will to do anything about the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi Arabia then tried to have it banned, but this caused Patriot Act to become much more popular.
- Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic when it initially erupted in Wuhan, China, sent a message in a private chat with fellow doctors about cases he had seen, comparing it to SARS, another deadly outbreak which broke out in China in 2003. The government-controlled police, who spy on the app that the doctor used, WeChat, detained and censured him, forcing him to sign a paper apologising for his 'illegal behaviour'. Later, after the disease had reached a death toll in the hundreds, not only was Li vindicated and the government humiliated, but when he died after contracting the virus from his selfless work treating victims, he became an unintentional martyr, a symbol of the government's failure to deal with the virus and the country's oppressive restrictions on personal freedoms, causing rage and dissent across the nation. Oops!
- In 2023, the Indian government banned India: The Modi Question, a documentary critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his handling of the 2002 Gujarat riots, through emergency laws, and pressured social media websites to remove clips of the documentary. This only led Modi critics inside India to host private screenings.
- In October 2009, Ralph Lauren issued a DMCA complaint against the blog Photoshop Disasters for criticising and reposting some of their advertising. Although the company later apologised for the shoddy Photoshopping, they went and did the exact same thing again a few weeks later.
- Google's Street View project has often caused controversy amongst privacy campaigners. But requests to blur and black-out some places in Germany backfired when they were targeted for vandalism. Evidently they didn't realise that deliberately blurred or blacked images draw more attention than just plain, uninteresting houses.
- The California Coastal Records Project's article on the lawsuit.
- From the 2007 North Dakota Law Review: "Online Satellite and Aerial Images: Issues and Analysis" (pp. 457-78) — "Invasion of Privacy" begins on page 561. The first mention of Babs' suit occurs at the bottom of the following page. (This article also has extensive discussions on Google Earth, if you're interested.)
- Right To Be Forgotten
- BBC Magazine — The perils of the Streisand effect
- Image number 3850 on their website. It is now more widely available and seen than would be expected if the photographer wasn't sued and the California Coastal Records Project was left on its own.
- Streisand v. Adelman (2003), case number SC 077 257
- BBC News — Take That star Howard Donald's super-injunction lifted
- See Time's Top 10 Censored Books for some prime examples.
- The Disneyland Memorial Orgy by Paul Krassner (05/25/2011 11:45 am ET) Huffington Post.
- See the Wikipedia article on Escape from Tomorrow § Legal issues.
- Escape from Tomorrow (film). D23. Retrieved 7 September 2022
- Fishman affidavit
- Rational Responders
- Why We Protest — Youtube vs The Users
- Tweleted (archived from January 3, 2010).
- Why the IWF was right to ban a Wikipedia page
- Opinion: Living with the Streisand Effect - The New York Times
- IWF backs off of Scorpions Wikipedia block after criticism
- "DMCA Texas Instruments". 2009-09-25. Archived from the original on November 25, 2011. Retrieved 2014-02-03.
- Hey, Texas Instruments -- Stop Digging Holes
- GTA 5 MOD - Samsung Galaxy Note 7 (Bomb). Mafia Game Videos. Retrieved on 7 September 2022
- Martindale, Jon. "It's back! YouTube video showing Note 7 blowing up cars in 'GTA V' is restored." 20 October 2016. Retrieved 7 September 2022
- Nintendo explains their Dolphin emulator DMCA, says the project 'stifles innovation'
- Sony Computer Entertainment America v. Bleem, vol. 214, February 14, 2000, p. 1022, retrieved November 3, 2021
- An open letter to Nintendo about Emulators: You’re doing it wrong…
- BBC News &mdmash; When is a secret not a secret?
- "Did the FBI get it wrong on North Korea?" CBS News, 23 December 2014 (recovered 1 August 2015).
- The Interview makes $15m in online release
- Germany drops Turkey President Erdogan insult case, BBC, 4 October 2016
- Netflix Row: Hasan Minhaj pokes fun at removal of show criticizing Saudi Arabia
- WeChat and the Surveillance State, Stephen McDonell, BBC News, 7 June 2019
- As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight, New York Times, 1 February 2020
- Coronavirus 2019-nCoV Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE
- 'Hero who told the truth': Chinese rage over coronavirus death of whistleblower doctor, the Guardian, 7 February 2020
- India invokes emergency laws to ban BBC Modi documentary, the Guardian, 23 January 2023
- How To Turn A Photoshop Disaster Into A Photoshop Catastrophe. Archived from the original at photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com.
- The Hits Keep Coming. Archived from the original at photoshopdisasters.blogspot.com.
- BBC News — German vandals target Street View opt-out homes