For 10 Years Everyone's Been Using 'The Streisand Effect' Without Paying; Now I'm Going To Start Issuing Takedowns

from the watch-it-get-even-bigger dept

I have to admit that I had no idea that it had been 10 years since I coined the term “The Streisand Effect” until the SkepticHistory Twitter feed called my attention to it earlier this week. I had thought about saving this for the weekend “this week in history” post, but it seems worth delving into today — especially with folks like the thieves at Gawker Media putting up a whole story about it and stealing all the attention and whatnot.

So, yeah, ten years ago this week, I coined “the Streisand Effect,” which was actually on a story about how the Marco Beach Ocean Resort was all offended by the fact that (a site that, yes, still exists and is still being updated) had posted a photo of a urinal from the resort, and the resort insisted that it was illegal to use its name. As we pointed out, this stupid takedown request would only draw more attention, and then we wrote:

How long is it going to take before lawyers realize that the simple act of trying to repress something they don’t like online is likely to make it so that something that most people would never, ever see (like a photo of a urinal in some random beach resort) is now seen by many more people? Let’s call it the Streisand Effect.

That last link then went back to a 2003 story about how Barbra Streisand had sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for photographing her house from a helicopter. Adelman had been photographing the entire California coastline, hoping to use it to document coastal erosion, and posted all the photographs online. Streisand got upset that her coastal home was shown, and sued. But, of course, before this, no one knew (or cared) that it was Streisand’s home. The image had been viewed six times (including twice by Streisand’s lawyers), but following the news of the lawsuit, hundreds of thousands of people went to see the photo. It was a story that stuck with me, and seemed to be repeated every few months in some form or another. So when I saw that threat, I just jokingly said we should call such things “The Streisand Effect.”

I didn’t think much about it until I saw it mentioned in a few other places a year or two later, including showing up in articles n Forbes and eventually leading to an interview on All Things Considered on NPR.

But, anyway, it’s been ten years of this and you’ve all had your fun, getting to use my personal creation, my sweat and tears and labor, and all of it for free. So I’m going to start issuing cease & desist letters to anyone who uses The Streisand Effect and doesn’t pay my royalties. We’ve set up a simple site where you can go and see the royalty rates, as well as make an easy payment. We even will offer amnesty for past usage if you pay a one time fee. We’ve also hired some of the best Spanish lawyers to explore ways to demand payments from additional sites as well.

Obviously, this is necessary or else how would I have had the incentive to create the term in the first place? All these people benefiting off of my hard work, my labor, the sweat of my brow are freeloading off of my property. And it has to stop now. “The Streisand Effect” is a valuable concept and I’m sick of all the freeloaders. It will stop and we should start to see it disappearing from unpaid use soon, thanks to my auto-C&D sender system.*

* Because this is the internet and because there are still some satire-impaired people out there, yes, this is a joke (and yes, that includes the bit up top about Gawker being thieves). I mean, other than the fact that issuing a bunch of cease & desist letters should, in theory, lead to a purposeful “Streisand Effect” purposely generating more attention for the term, which would be pretty neat. On a more serious level, it really was an off-hand joke made a decade ago, and I’m still amazed that it caught on and became such a big deal. I’m happy that it’s a useful shorthand and hope that it actually served its key purpose in succinctly getting the point across about the stupidity of trying to take down content….

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Comments on “For 10 Years Everyone's Been Using 'The Streisand Effect' Without Paying; Now I'm Going To Start Issuing Takedowns”

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Michael Donnelly (profile) says:

Use of other name without attribution.

As both a fan and imaginary legal counsel for the American band “10 Years”, I must complain about your usage of the group’s name in the title without first obtaining a license.

As an expert in the various intellectual property disciplines, you should already understand that such cavalier disregard for my clients’ rights will not be looked upon favorably by the court.

Consider this post a properly-constructed DMCA/trademark/patent (pending) takedown notice. Yes, those exist now, deal with it.

S. T. Stone (profile) says:

Silly Mike. This is a futile effort. Really, did you think this would actually work? Everyone sees this for what it is. I can’t even fathom why you’d try this blatant moneygrab. Such a shame that it’s come down to this. And to think, I used to respect you. Not even a hint of animus towards you. Damn shame, it is.

Everyone should have just one thing to say to you right now: ‘For shame, Mike. For shame!’ Everyone should immediately boycott Techdirt. ’Cause there’s nothing worse than a man who flip-flops on his very principles. The very idea makes me want to vomit.

DogBreath says:

The infallable auto-C&D sender system

“The Streisand Effect” is a valuable concept and I’m sick of all the freeloaders. It will stop and we should start to see it disappearing from unpaid use soon, thanks to my auto-C&D sender system.*

Using the tried and true (tired and stupid) methods of auto-C&D sender systems currently in use, taking down not only “The Streisand Effect”, but also any of the individual words used in the phrase:


“Streisand” = About 21,900,000 results

“Effect” = About 1,130,000,000 results

“The” = About 25,270,000,000 results

The MPAA & RIAA are just a drop in the ocean compared to the tidal wave you could release.

Bashful Pixie says:

Streisand Effect? That sounds stupid. it doesn’t even make any sense out of context and Babs is so much of a has-been no one would even know that Streisand is a name of a person.

No, Streisand Effect is dumb. That’s why we use the word “Viral” for the same thing. And it’s a helluvalot more description just by the definition of the word.

To-wit: “The Streisand Effect taking hold.” (Huh? WTF?)


“It’s gone viral.” (That makes way too much sense. I get it.)

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Streisand Effect doesn’t necessarily cause something to go viral, though it often can. It does, how ever, increase awareness of the thing one is attempting to censor.

Viral only describes how well known/popular a thing has become, but doesn’t touch reasoning. Hearing that it’s gone viral sounds like “this is the new cool thing that everyone is talking about”. The Streisand Effect on the other hand makes clear that some one out there doesn’t want you to know about it.

I don’t think “viral” is a good choice for the description, as the meaning is incomplete, it’s not always accurate, and implies something that isn’t necessarily true.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Ben is right. The Streisand Effect is about someone doing something stupid to bring to light something they were trying to hide. Something that most likely was going without notice in the first place. So the very attempt to hide it is what causes it to go viral or atleast become much more well known than if you had left it alone.

Anonymous Coward says:

South Park

I always thought the Streisand Effect went back to the 1998 South Park episode Mecha-Streisand. When Babs complained, the next episode was in spooky vision which had a picture of Barbara Streisand in each corner.

South Park continued to make fun of Streisand. If you pay attention to the movie, you will notice that the curse word that killed Saddam Hussein was “Barbara Streisand”

I guess it just goes to show how much effort Babs has put into being an ass over the years.

RD says:

Gonna be a fun show

Good Lord in Heaven, I am vibrating like a tuning fork at the show that is about to commence, watching the pro-copyright maximalists twist themselves into knots of “law” and “logic” in a desperate attempt to reconcile how MIKE doing this would be all sorts of wrong, yet still maintain that this farce of copyright and “owning” everything shoved behind 100+ year paywalls and $150k per infraction fines are justified. This is going to be GOOD!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gonna be a fun show

I don’t know what a “pro-copyright maximalist” is, but I don’t think anyone besides Barbara Streisand cares either way if the author tries to trademark “Streisand effect”. However unless someone had sold goods bearing that trademark without compensating Mike Masnick, there isn’t anything he could claw back. I would think a blog that comments on intellectual property would know that. Of course this is all moot because I doubt Ms. Streisand would allow such a trademark to occur.

So if this is satire, maybe stick to blogging about tech.

tqk (profile) says:

It's a fair cop. Our cheque's in the mail.

Good one Mike. Thanks for your letting us use it all these years, and for coming up with it in the first place. You Yanquis are so inventive at times.

I should warn you though, you might want to hold off on *spending* the money until your bank really clears the cheque. Sorry, it’s just the way we do things here.

Signed, The Guild of Nigerian Spammers.

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