The Streisand effect - Sand in your hand The transparency of the digital age makes it next to impossible for legacy interests to have a grip on information flow.

In 2003 some twelve thousand aerial pictures documenting the coastline of California were published online as a photography project. “Image 3850” had been downloaded only four times before it became the centre piece of a highly publicised court case. Actress and singer Barbra Streisand went to court to try and take down the photo displaying her seaside mansion from afar, claiming it infringed upon her privacy. When the news of her aggressive action broke, subsequent global media coverage led 420.000 viewers to visit the site over the next month alone. The ‘Streisand effect’ was born. Incidentally, the California Coastal Records Project countersued and prevailed in court.

The simple announcement of blocking online content – or trying to do so – just serves to whip up an appetite to get access to it. Any barrier to entry is readily digitally bypassed. Incumbent copyright holders find themselves in a lose-lose position: damned if they do (“Streisand!”) and damned if they don’t (“Weak!”). Before the Motion Picture Association of America launched a legal campaign for Google to remove the “FullLengthFilms” Reddit item from its search results this June, it recorded a measly 2.400 daily clicks. The move backfired, and traffic skyrocketed to over 300.000 per day, a 125-fold increase.

The World Cup in Brazil saw the ascent of tweets accompanied by coarse and shaky six-second unlicensed video clips running on the Twitter-owned Vine platform. The English Premier League was “working with social media providers to take down pirated clips and hope fans understand the need to maintain the investment model that produces the football they love.” To which Twitter tersely replied: “The threat of legal action… we believe to be a scare tactic as the reality of policing this is incredibly difficult.”

This line of defense comes straight out of the YouTube playbook. For years now, Google is allegedly unable to police its video site. That did not stop the company’s head of content and business operations from confirming it would block content from independent labels that do not sign licensing deals for YouTube’s new premium offering “in a matter of days”. No kidding.

The Streisand effect has long spread beyond digital copyrighted content to plain old services too. At a conference earlier this year we witnessed one of Uber’s honchos chuckling that each taxi strike or local call for political action tended to coincide with a surge in user sign-ups in those very cities. Visibly basking in the “us versus them” controversy, he was basically begging the media frenzy to endure. When will people learn that if you bark at a digital moon it just waxes?

gepost door