Russian Law Being Used to Prevent the Disclosure of Banned Websites

— Russia’s media regulator is preventing Google from disclosing thousands of URLs that were banned under so-called “VPN law”

For the past week or so, Google has been embroiled in a censorship war over Russia’s attempts to ban instant messaging service Telegram.

Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor banned Telegram after the company refused to hand over encryption keys that would allow Russian security agents to spy on users’ private messages.

source

Telegram has so far managed to circumvent the ban by using proxy servers, including Google sub-networks, allowing users in Russia to continue to communicate anonymously.

Yesterday, Roskomnadzor escalated the web war by banning certain Google IP addresses under Russia’s so-called “VPN law,” which regulates the use of Virtual Private Networks.

Takedown requests published by the online archive Lumen Database show that Roskomnadzor is using another legal tool brought in late last year, order N 217, to prevent Google from disclosing thousands of URLs that have been outlawed under the VPN law.

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“Google received a request from [Roskomnadzor] to remove over 635 URLs from Web Search in Russia,” reads one of the takedown requests published earlier today. “This request came under Russian federal law 276-FZ…commonly referred to as the ‘VPN law’. We are unable to publish the full list of URLs due to Russian law (Roskomnadzor order #217, appendix 3, dated October 25, 2017).”

The nature of the offending content, and whether or not Google has complied with Roskomnadzor’s demands, remains unclear.

Click here to read order N 217.

Russian Media Regulator Targets Award-Winning Trump Critic

— Russia’s media regulator is trying to censor an award-winning news website that reported on the Robert Mueller investigation

Roskomnadzor, a Moscow state-owned media regulator, has sent Google a court order demanding that it delist an award-winning opposition news website that reported about Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.

Grani, a popular Russian website that according to Reporters Without Borders provides “a forum for the many civil society groups, human rights defenders and opposition figures who are never seen on the main TV channels,” won a human rights prize in 2015 for its reporting on Internet censorship.

The online newspaper has reported extensively about the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russian authorities.

Headline: “Mueller can be trusted” (source)

Last month, Roskomnadzor sent a court order demanding that Google delist Grani from its search results, claiming the opposition website had called “for the implementation of extremist activities.”

Via the Lumen Database, which archives online takedown requests:

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According to Grani’s “About” page, the website is actually a mirror of another website that is currently blocked within the Russian Federation.

When you enter that website’s URL into a Russian proxy, you get this message:

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Via Google Translate:

Access to this page is prohibited, because [it] was included in the “Unified Register of Prohibited Sites”, containing information, the dissemination of which is prohibited in the Russian Federation, or in the “Federal List of Extremist Materials” on the website of the Ministry of Justice.

As of publication, Google has not delisted the mirrored website, and it is still available to view within Russia.

Bad Fan Fiction

— Michael Jackson’s estate targets erotic fan fiction with series of copyright complaints

According to the Lumen Database, Jackson’s estate recently hired self-proclaimed “Web Sheriff,” British IP lawyer John Giacobbi, to scrub a blogger’s erotic fan fiction about the late singer.

John Giacobbi (source)

The targeted blog, MJ Fan Fictions, includes “semi-erotic adventures” about Jackson and the blog’s owner, Trinette Rani Johnson.

source

Here’s a particularly inspiring sample of Johnson’s work:

Daryl [Jackson’s character from the Bad video] was enjoying himself too much. He was off from school and his mother wasn’t home from work. His new girlfriend wasn’t home either. He had on his stereo to the sounds of Stevie Wonder. He had eaten dinner and was about to take a shower. He took his shirt off first revealing his taunt tan chest, perky little nipples, define muscles, and his outtie belly button.

If that does it for you, you can read more by clicking here.

Citing U.S. copyright law, Giacobbi has requested that Google delist Johnson’s blog because “the use of the copyrighted materials…is not authorised by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.”

The complaint is part of an ongoing series of legal efforts to purge Google’s blogosphere of Jackson fan erotica, described in a separate complaint as a subculture of “libellous innuendo” and “obscene and malicious falsehoods.”

Stockholmies

— Charity for self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm cites my blog post re: legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web

Earlier this week I blogged about legal efforts by Turkey’s First Lady Emine Erdoğan to scrub negative news stories about herself from the web.

The story has since been picked up by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a non-profit advocacy group set-up by self-exiled Turkish journalists living in Stockholm, Sweden.

From the “About” page of the SCF website:

Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) is an advocacy organization that promotes the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights and freedoms with a special focus on Turkey, a country with eighty million citizens that is experiencing a dramatic decline in its parliamentary democracy under its autocratic leadership.

SCF is a non-profit organization set up by a group of journalists who have been forced to live in self-exile in Sweden against the background of a massive crackdown on press freedom in Turkey, where almost 300 journalists have been jailed, (For updated list click) and close to 200 media outlets have been shuttered by a series of arbitrary decisions taken by the Turkish authorities. It is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, a country that has a strong tradition on the freedom of expression and just celebrated the 250th anniversary of the anniversary for the adoption of legal guarantees for freedom of information and a free press.

SCF is committed to being a reference source which provides a broad and accurate perspective on rights violations in Turkey, monitoring daily developments through the lens of fact-based investigative journalism, and documenting individual cases of infringement of fundamental rights and liberties.

The founders of SCF are experienced and respected journalists who managed national daily newspapers in Turkey for years before they were forced to leave. They have the expertise, human resources, and network on the ground to track events in Turkey despite serious challenges and impediments to accessing information.

Via “Turkey’s ‘First Lady’ seeks to censor negative reports about her on Internet,”¹ Stockholm Center for Freedom, October 6, 2017:

According to an article written by Dean Sterling Jones titled “First Lady of Lumen” published in “Shooting the Messenger,” based on data assured by the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests, Emine Erdoğan, who is the wife of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan so she is Turkey’s First Lady, sent a Turkish court order complaint to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports describing them as “damaging” to her “personality rights.”

“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.” However, according to the article most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint. From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images.

Targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

[…]

Turkey has become once again the leading country among the countries that have censored and requested removal of content from Twitter, according to a transparency report covering between Jan. 1 – Jun. 30, 2017.

The Turkish Interior Ministry stated on August 7, 2016 that 3,710 people have been the subject of legal proceedings and 1,656 were arrested between March and August 2016 due to social media posts. As of the end of 2016, at least 10,000 people were under investigation for committing the alleged crime of making terrorist propaganda and insulting senior state officials on social media.

According to figures released by the Ministry of Interior Affairs in December 2016, 3,710 social media users had been investigated in the last six months of 2016, of whom 1,656 were arrested. A total of 1,203 of those investigations resulted in releases on probation.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has shown that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are pending trial, but only 25 journalists remain convicted while serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrant remains for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Click here to read the full article.

¹The English is a little shaky, so I’ve made some light edits.

First Lady of Lumen

— First Lady of Turkey Emine Erdoğan demands takedown of negative news reports

That’s according to the Lumen Database, a website that collects and analyses online takedown requests. In April, the site uploaded a Turkish court order complaint Erdoğan sent to Google and WordPress demanding the removal of news reports described as “damaging” to the “personality rights” of the First Lady.

source

“Personality rights” refers to “the right of an individual to control the commercial use of his or her name, image, likeness, or other unequivocal aspects of one’s identity.”

Most of the targeted URLs, including one of the WordPress blogs, have since been removed from the web, making it difficult to determine the specifics of Erdoğan’s complaint.

From the remaining URLs, it appears that she objected to a blitz of negative news reports and images, including this image of her husband, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wearing what appears to be a training bra on his head:

Definitely not a fez (source)

Elsewhere, the Turkish First Lady has targeted Turkish opposition paper Ulusal Kanal for reporting that she copied her Twitter bio from former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama. While the original link is no longer available, a duplicate of the story carries the headline: “Emine Erdoğan is disgraced in the world!”

The story was first reported in 2014 by former Pentagon advisor Michael Rubin, who wrote via the American Enterprise Institute:

When it comes to respect for Intellectual Property Rights, Turkey ranks quite poorly. If Turkey wants to reform, perhaps they should start at the top. When Recep Tayyip Erdoğan assumed the presidency last month, his wife Emine became first lady. It seems Emine models herself after Michelle Obama, right down to her twitter account.

The description on Michelle’s twitter account reads, “This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Now here’s the description from Emine Erdoğan’s twitter feed: “Emine Erdoğan Resmi Twitter Hesabı This account is run by Organizing for Action staff. Tweets from the First Lady are signed -mo.”

Then again, maybe it’s not shameless plagiarism in Turkey’s presidential palace. Maybe Emine Erdoğan really does use the initials ‘mo.’ And as for suggesting any impropriety that might undercut Emine’s vestal image, I’m sure we’re only a Turkish press conference away from blaming this scandal on Jews, the interest rate lobbyyours truly, that well-known personification of subversion Steven Cook, or the Gülenists.

As it happens, Turkish officials didn’t blame the Jews, instead blaming “anti-government forces” and claiming that the Twitter account was not operated by the Turkish First Lady.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Rubin gave his own interpretation:

“The account has been active since August,” Rubin said. “Turkey has taken the power to knock sites offline without court orders in a matter of minutes. The Turkish explanation beggars belief.”

“The fact that Emine Erdogan’s account continues—this time with its plagiarized description fixed—suggests that Emine’s handlers screwed up but were too proud to admit it,” Rubin said. “The whole incident is a metaphor for what Turkey has become: dishonest, dishonorable, but too proud to admit its fundamental corruption.”

Other targeted URLs include a Google blog post about Turkey’s nationwide Twitter ban, another since-deleted story that implicates the Turkish First Lady in a financial corruption scandal, and an article that appears to suggest that Turkish citizens who insult their government will be deported and have their citizenship revoked.

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It’s not the first time the Erdoğans have petitioned Google and WordPress to delete negative reports about themselves from the web.

Last year I blogged about successful attempts by the Turkish president to block a WordPress blog featuring satirical cartoons depicting him as a tyrannical dictator. That story was subsequently picked up by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s Maren Williams (click here to read), and touched on by The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markey (click here to read).

Earlier this year, the easily offended president asked Google to delist “hurtful, humiliating” reports comparing him to Adolf Hitler. That story was subsequently picked up by Techdirt’s Tim Cushing (click here to read).

Paparazzi Schätze

— British law firm claims copyright on paparazzi hot tub photos of pop star Rihanna with her billionaire Saudi boyfriend

British law firm Carter-Ruck Solicitors is claiming copyright on paparazzi hot tub photos of pop star Rihanna cosying up to her new boyfriend, billionaire Saudi Toyota heir Hassan Jameel. That’s according to the Lumen Database, a website that publishes online takedown requests.

Records submitted by Google show that Carter-Ruck recently employed Web Sheriff, a British anti-piracy company, to target a number of well-known women’s magazines and gossip sites, including Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, Fashion Magazine, Uproxx, Complex, and perennial litigation-magnet Lipstick Alley.

On behalf of Carter-Ruck, Web Sheriff has sent Google around 14 requests claiming that the “pirated copyright photographs” were published “without license or authority,” and that “the nature of images means they do not qualify as ‘fair use.’”

Here is an example of one of the requests, via Lumen:

DMCA (Copyright) Complaint to Google

SENDER
Web Sheriff
on behalf of Carter-Ruck Solicitors (Law Firm)
[Private]
…GB
Sent on August 24, 2017

RECIPIENT
Google Inc
[Private]
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US
Received on August 24, 2017

SUBMITTER
Google Inc

Re: Unknown
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN

NOTICE TYPE: DMCA

Copyright claim #1

KIND OF WORK: Unspecified

DESCRIPTION
1. Rights Owners : CARTER-RUCK SOLICITORS / LAW FIRM (OWNER OF IMAGES VIA FULL ASSIGNMENT OF COPYRIGHT) 2. Rights Agent : WEB SHERIFF® 3. Infringed / Violated Rights : COPYRIGHT 4. Infringed Individuals / Entities : CARTER-RUCK SOLICITORS / LAW FIRM (COPYRIGHT OWNER) 5. Infringing / Violating Materials : PIRATED COPYRIGHT PHOTOGRAPHS (PUBLISHED WITHOUT LICENSE OR AUTHORITY – AND NATURE OF IMAGES MEANS THEY DO NOT QUALIFY AS ‘FAIR USE’)

At least one of the targeted publications, Toronto’s Fashion Magazine, has since 404-ed its article about the couple.

Carter-Ruck Lawyers has a reputation for using aggressive legal tactics to squash negative news stories about its celebrity clientele. Last year, I blogged extensively about the firm’s attempts to censor internationally based journalists and Twitter users from reporting or discussing British pop singer Elton John’s open marriage (click here and here to read).

When Authors Attack (Redux)

— Guardian deletes article about “batty” romance/sci-fi author Candace Sams after claims someone hacked her e-mails

According to Google’s Transparency Report, the Texan author recently filed a copyright complaint for the search engine to delist a critical 2009 article published in the Guardian newspaper, “When Authors Attack” by multimedia books journalist Alison Flood.

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Flood’s article said that the “wonderfully batty” Sams, using the pseudonym “Niteflyr One,” told Amazon users she’d reported them to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation because of negative reviews and comments she’d received for one of her books.

From there, things got even battier. Via the Lumen Database:

DMCA (Copyright) Complaint to Google

SENDER
Candace Sams
[Private]
…US
Sent on October 02, 2016

RECIPIENT
Google Inc
[Private]
Mountain View, CA, 94043, US
Received on October 02, 2016

SUBMITTER
Google Inc

Re: Unknown
SENT VIA: UNKNOWN

NOTICE TYPE: DMCA

Copyright claim #1

KIND OF WORK: Unspecified

DESCRIPTION
Contents on the following websites/blog urls were taken from my private emails without my permission – after my email was hacked. Parts of my email can still be seen in whole or in part on both sites, in the blog narratives; neither site will respond to my requests for removal of that hacked email. Private email is protected by copyright, both sites know this but still post that material within their blogs, and without my permission.

ORIGINAL URLS: 01. https://www.candacesams.com/

ALLEGEDLY INFRINGING URLS: 01. https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/dec/22/when-authors-attack

Seeking to verify the authenticity of the takedown request and hoping to make sense of the bizarre hacking claims, earlier this month I e-mailed Flood and Sams.

On June 16, shortly after I sent my e-mails, the Guardian deleted Flood’s article, citing “privacy reasons.”

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Did the Guardian delete the article as a result of my e-mail to Flood, and, if so, why? Did Sams ask the Guardian to delete the article, and, if so, why did it agree to her request?

I’ve asked the paper for comment.

Techdirt Skewers Turkey

Techdirt publishes article based on my blog post re: Erdoğan’s takedown demand of “humiliating” news reports comparing him to Hitler

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Via “Turkish President Demands Google Delist a Bunch of Websites Comparing Him to Hitler” by Tim Cushing, Techdirt, May 24, 2017:

from the ‘Hitler-was-an-amateur-authoritarian,’-the-president-complained dept

The world’s most thin-skinned “leader” is at it again. Perpetually-insulted Turkish super-villain Recip Erdogan is still firing off court orders to Google, expecting the immediate banishment of anything he finds offensive. Dean Jones of the invaluable Shooting the Messenger has more details:


The Turkish tyrant ordered Google
[Note: actually, Google only dealt with three Blogspot URLs; the rest is addressed to the Internet in general, I guess.] to delist over 40 URLs including a critical report by The Washington Times, plus an AOL image search for “Adolf Erdoğan,” because they allegedly link to “hurtful, humiliating” images and memes.

[…]

The targeted sites had reported about Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on journalists and other critics of the Turkish government, comparing him to Hitler.


Not helping these comparisons is Erdogan’s similar facial structure and his endless vindictive actions against anyone who’s hurt his feelings.

Turkish law gives him considerable leeway to do this. Unfortunately, a small handful of countries have extended helping hands rather than middle fingers in response to censorship and/or prosecution demands. It’s unknown why the Turkish government thought Google could help it out with an AOL image search, but it’s equally unclear why it didn’t ask for the delisting of Google’s image search, which shows virtually-identical results.

The more someone humors this tyrant, the worse he’s going to get. And it certainly doesn’t help that Jones’ report comes on the heels of the Erdogan’s US visit, during which his personal bodyguards beat up American protesters. This prompted a tepid display of disappointment from the US State Department and a much more hot-blooded demand for an apology from the Turkish government US law enforcement daring to interrupt Erdogan’s bodyguards while they were beating up US citizens.

Read the full article by clicking here.

Brittain Gets Streisanded

Popehat and techdirt publish articles based on my blog post about “revenge pornster” and Dryvyng CEO Craig R. Brittain re: DMCA takedown requests

Via “As A Dog Returns To His Vomit, Lunatic Revenge Porn Extortionist and Dryvyng CEO Craig Brittain Returns To Censorious Threatsby Ken White, Popehat, April 6, 2017:

Thanks to Dean Sterling Jones at Shooting The Messenger, I see that the demented and easily enraged Craig Brittain has returned to his habit of ineffectual gestures at censorship.

You remember Craigbo. He ran a revenge porn site called “Is Anyone Down,” posing as a lawyer named David Blade in order to extort victims into paying money to have their pictures taken down.

…More recently, Craig has embarked on two simultaneous paths: the path of a social critic and aspiring pseudo-journalist seeking investors to back his anarcho-capitalist critique of society, and aspiring CEO of Uber competitor “Dryvyng,” a business devoted to the proposition that if you’d like a ride you ought to order one from a pathological revenge porn extortionist with a searing hatred of women and humanity in general.

on behalf of Dryvyng [Brittain recently issued a DMCA copyright complaint against] a Wikipedia page on his revenge porn site “Is Anybody Down?” The DMCA process, as you know, addresses intellectual property rights, but with characteristic legal acumen Craigbo has demanded that Wikipedia remove the page based on “Slanderous [sic], libelous and deliberately misleading Wikipedia entry designed to defame and libel me and my company . . . Please permanently remove this page (and all of Wikipedia itself, which is a left-wing hive for slander and libel) from Google.” Craigbo has also attempted to target Business Insider, Fusion, Reddit, and others.

Craig will be Craig. But will he be Craig, free and in the wild forever? The wheels of justice grind slowly — but remember that they do grind, my friends. To the extent that Craig’s continued existence as Craig is not the most brutal consequence a cold universe can inflict upon him, Craig will encounter justice sooner or later.

Via “Revenge Pornster Craig Brittain Issues DMCA Notices Demanding Google Delist Entire Websites, Including Wikipedia” by Tim Cushing, techdirt, April 7, 2017:

Former revenge porn site operator/lawyer impersonator Craig Brittain is once again engaged in some DMCA abuse. A couple of years ago, Brittain issued bogus DMCA notices in hopes of whitewashing his past. Along with posts at Popehat, Vice, Huffington Post, Ars Technica, and Reddit, Brittain asked Google to delist the FTC’s press release about its settlement with Brittainover his revenge porn misdeeds.

It didn’t work, obviously. A new set of stories highlighting Brittain’s sordid past swiftly filled up any gaps in the revenge porn purveyor’s vanity Google searches.

Popehat reports Brittain has apparently learned nothing from his last Streisanding. Brittain is once again issuing bogus takedown notices — this time on behalf of his alt-right ride-sharing pipe dream, Dryvyng. (Pronounced “dryheaving.”)

…It’s this “company” that Craig has issued the DMCA notices for. Apparently, he’s none too thrilled at the lack of positive press for his hypothetical ride-sharing startup and has once again asked Google to delist all sorts of things he has no business asking to be delisted. Dean Jones of Shooting the Messenger is the person who originally discovered a handful of notices sent by “Dryvyng,” all of which feature petulant commentary not normally found in legal paperwork.

…In every case, the accusation is internet libelslander, which can’t be touched by DMCA notices. The reason is in the name of the notice itself: Digital Millennium COPYRIGHT Act. But when you’re angry at the internet, any fill-in-the-blank form will do. Even if Brittain had used the proper paperwork, Google would be under no obligation to delist the alleged slander, thanks to Section 230 of the CDA.

It’s no surprise Brittain’s attempt to pass himself off as David Blade, Esq. went so badly. He obviously has zero legal acumen. If you’re going to beclown yourself with bogus notices, at least try to do so somewhat competently. Sure, the outcome won’t change, but at least you won’t look like even more of an idiot than you already do.

You can read my April 6, 2017 blog post about Brittain by clicking here.

Dishing the Dirt II

Burlington Police Department responds to Techdirt.com article based on my blog post re: failed attempt to censor news stories about arrests, insists someone is pretending to abuse copyright law to protect reputation

Last week, I blogged about a DMCA/copyright complaint filed by so-called legal agent’ Mike Ferrell who claimed to represent the Burlington, Massachusetts Police Department, demanding that Google remove news stories because it violated the copyright the police department held on certain mugshots.

When I passed the story on to Techdirt.com, I was awaiting a response from the Burlington PD to my request for comment. Over the weekend, the department contacted Techdirt.com putting the record straight.

Via “Burlington Police Insist Someone Is Pretending To Abuse Copyright Law To Censor News Stories About Arrests” by Mike Masnick, November 21, 2016.

Mike Kent, the Chief of Police in Burlington reached out to us over the weekend to let us know that whoever sent the notices, it was not his department. He says they have no one working for them by the name of Mike Ferrell, and that the Burlington PD “has no issues whatsoever with these mugshots being used.”

So… that leaves open the question of just who is impersonating the Burlington Police Department, and filing completely bogus DMCA notices in an attempt to censor news stories. It would seem that the most obvious options are those who were featured in those stories about arrests in Burlington. The very first notice that Ferrell sent, focused on stories about a particular prostitution sting, and named the nine men who were arrested, along with mugshots. It would seem that perhaps one (or more!) of those nine men would have pretty strong incentives to seek to have those stories deleted from Google.

Either way, we’ve been pointing out for years that copyright is an easy tool for censorship — and here’s yet another example. If you want something censored, just try to work out a copyright connection of some sort. In this case, it appears to have failed, but mostly because whoever filed it wasn’t very good at pretending to work for the police.

Andrew Quemere, a public records enthusiast and journalist for digboston.com, has posted a separate response from Kent, stating that he believes the complaint “was filed under a false name by a man who was arrested in a prostitution sting several years ago and who has hounded me because his photo is still on the Internet.”

If this is the case, the perpetrator has succeeded only in attracting attention to his arrest.

The term for this, coined by Masnick himself, is the Streisand Effect, referring to a 2003 story about Barbra Streisand’s failed lawsuit to have a fairly inconspicuous photo of her Malibu coastal home removed from the Internet.

Prior to Streisand filing the lawsuit, the photo had been viewed six times (twice by her own lawyers). Following the news of the lawsuit, it had accumulated around 420,000 views. The photo is currently featured prominently on Wikipedia’s dedicated Streisand Effect page.

It will be interesting to see if Mr. Ferrell files any further complaints with Google.