The Volokh Conspiracy

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Happy 20th Birthday to the Streisand Effect


The underlying lawsuit was filed May 20, 2003, and the Effect followed within a few weeks; Mike Masnick (Techdirt) has the details:

Twenty years ago today, actress/singer Barbra Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for daring to photograph her coastal mansion as part of his (fascinating) project to photograph the entire west coast of the US from a helicopter to track erosion over time.

In 2002 this was an incredibly ambitious project by Adelman. It was before we all had widespread access to satellite imagery, and before the web worked the way it does today. Adelman set up a pretty incredible website which is still up today in all its 2002-era glory (though he has, as was part of the original plan, updated it with more modern photographs over time).

Either way, one of the thousands of photographs of the coastline include Barbara Streisand's compound:

[Streisand's lawyers brought] five different claims, all variations on privacy or publicity rights violations (all of which were obviously ridiculous), and yet she demanded $10 million in damages for each claim, for a grand total of $50 million. For an aerial photograph of her home.

The rest, as they say, is history. Streisand sued, and in Adelman's anti-SLAPP motion to try to get the case dismissed, he revealed that the photo of Streisand's house had been viewed a grand total of six times, two of which were from Streisand's own lawyers, and most of the rest appeared to be by Streisand herself and some neighbors ….

However, after the lawsuit was filed and the story hit the news, the photo received nearly half a million views. Oops….

Masnick has more in his article, which is much worth reading. Note that the Effect can apply to meritorious claims as well as frivolous ones, and thus can deter the filing of meritorious claims (especially related to invasion of privacy or defamation); it thus isn't always a good thing. But is definitely a real thing, which lawyers and litigants ignore at their peril.