The Hero of Time and the Streisand effect

2010 January 15
by Joonas Mäkinen

Every Internet-dweller should know about the Streisand effect. In fact, if there was a university major called Internet studies, that should definitely be covered quite in the beginning. By itself it would already be a wonderful subject for a thesis. In a nutshell, it refers to the seemingly uncontrolled surge of spreading of information resulting from an attempt to remove that aforementioned information from the Internet. If you are a celebrity who wants to take a photo of your house off some website, the louder you demand it, the harder you fail. Everytime the issue is mentioned a myriad more people get interested in it and soon the photo would be mirrored in thousands of places, now completely impossible to hide from the public. (Please do enlighten yourself more with the Wikipedia article about the Streisand effect.)

A little time ago I read about yet another unbelievable copyright issue from Slashdot: Nintendo sent a Cease & Desist letter to a group of filmmakers who had spent four years making a fan-made Legend of Zelda movie based on the story of the Nintendo 64 game Ocarina of Time.

Now, my reaction to this is irrelevant to the actual contents of the film (The Hero of Time), if it was good or bad. I support people making any sort of derivative works, and I believe Nintendo just shot its own feet here. By attacking their biggest fans in the name of intellectual property (which as a word is already a misnomer) big companies are giving themselves both bad reputation and actually directly affecting their own sales by denying free advertising. Surely this fan-made film wouldn’t even compete with anything Nintendo has produced.

No matter how idiotic these fan-hunts are and how many people put Nintendo in a boycott because of this, what follows from trying to stop the distribution of the film is a lot more interesting. After the case was Slashdotted, everyone wanted to see the film, even if they didn’t like it. The fact that Nintendo made a public case wanting to stop the distribution of the film made people all the more interested in it. Suddenly, there were download links everywhere and film started popping up on every major torrent tracker index.

The final result: The film got more viewers around the globe than ever, the crew got comments, critique (and perhaps even donations) by myriads. And what about Nintendo, who wanted to play the role the lawful good guy protecting its industry-lobbied rights? They definitely didn’t manage to kill off the distribution of the film and while trying they turned away many fans and customers. Not such a good deal.


Personally, I believe that when the Streisand effect happens due to strong demands, it is always a good solution. If there’s something you don’t want to get public, don’t release it in the first place, and if someone forced the information from you, don’t be an ass and make a public fuss out of it all by yourself. Most likely hoping to get that something back by just yelling long enough won’t work. And it doesn’t look that good either. (Scientology, I’m looking at you.)

Granted, Nintendo definitely in this case was not the most audible or aggressive entity to demand takedowns, but their motives remain unclear to me…