In 2003 Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for $50 million. Adelman had taken some 12.000 photos of the California coastline, California Coastal Records Project – http://www.californiacoastline.org/. One photo included a shot of Streisand’s house and she wanted it removed. When the news spread the action had the opposite effect – the picture of the house spread all over the Internet, thus the term Streisand Effect.
Now the Icelandic bank Kaupthing is in the same situation. When a secret corporate credit report showing loans over €45 million was leaked to the WikiLeaks site, the bank took legal action and got a gag order to ban national news broadcaster RUV from covering information from the report. And of course the Streisand Effect kicked in and the document spread and got huge publicity in blogs and other mediums. As a bonus, the bank’s reputation got seriously damaged. The public does not have much sympathy for the bank. Only two days later the bank gave up and dropped the gag order.
The Streisand Effect, a term coined by Mike Masnick of Techdirt is the result of the disruptive nature of the Internet. When the law conflicts with the Internet something strange happens. Information like the Kaupthing file is infinitely copyable at zero cost so it becomes impossible to destroy. Trying to control information on the Internet can have the opposite effect and backfire.