How Barbra Streisand Inspired the “Streisand Effect”

Barbra Streisand.
Barbra Streisand. / Rich Fury/Getty Images

It’s common sense: If you make a big deal over something, it’s going to attract attention. And if you’re an international superstar, like, say, Barbra Streisand, the tantrum is going to draw even more attention.

Hence, the Streisand Effect, which, according to The Economist, occurs when “efforts to suppress a juicy piece of online information can backfire and end up making things worse for the would-be censor.” See also: Beyonce Hulking Out Super Bowl Fiasco.

In 2003, Streisand sued photographer Kenneth Adelman for distributing aerial pictures of her mansion in Malibu. But Adelman was no paparazzo—he operated the California Coastal Records Project, a resource providing more than 12,000 pictures of the California coast for scientists and researchers to use to study coastal erosion. At the time Streisand sued Adelman for $50 million, the picture in question had been accessed a whopping total of six times—twice by Streisand’s lawyers. Nonetheless, her lawsuit stated that the photos explicitly showed people how to gain access to her private residence.

Of course, news outlets around the world reported on Streisand’s outrage, and before long, the photo on Adelman’s website (below) had received well over a million views. The photo was also picked up by the Associated Press and was reprinted countless times.

The Streisand estate that caused the Streisand Effect.
The Streisand estate that caused the Streisand Effect. / Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

As if single-handedly causing the exact thing she didn’t want to happen wasn’t bad enough, Streisand also lost the lawsuit; the judge ordered her to cover the $155,567.04 Adelman incurred in legal fees.