Free speech rights trumped copyrights Monday in a federal appeals ruling that Google Inc. is not required to remove an actress’ controversial anti-Muslim appearance in an online video.
Cindy Garcia, who was “bamboozled” when she appeared in a video, Innocence of Muslims, that made blasphemous claims against the Prophet Mohammed, sued to have the video removed from the Internet after she received death threats.
In a 10-1 decision, the 9th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals decision refused to back Garcia’s request for an injunction saying “a weak copyright claim cannot justify censorship in the guise of authorship.”
Garcia, whose fleeting five-second performance on a YouTube.com video preview of the film, faced outrage from the Muslim community in the Middle East.
Judge Margaret McKeown likened Garcia’s theory that her brief appearance in the film was an act of authorship and gave her a copyright to the performance to “copyright cherry picking.”
Google had argued that splintering a movie in the many different copyright “works” by various actors would make “Swiss cheese of copyrights.”
In dissent, Judge Alex Kozinski said, “Garcia’s dramatic performance met all of the requirements for copyright protection. The majority is wrong and makes a total mess of copyright law, right here in the Hollywood Circuit,” he added.
Garcia had responded to a 2011 casting call for a film titled “Desert Warrior,” an action-adventure thriller set in ancient Arabia. She was paid $500 and spoke just two sentences. She later discovered that writer-director Mark Basseley Youssef had renamed the film as an anti-Islam polemic called “innocence of Muslims,” the court notes.
The film depicts Mohammed as a murderer, pedophile and homosexual. Garcia’s lines were dubbed over with another’s voice asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”
The political storm that erupted after its appearance on YouTube is also allegedly linked to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Ultimately, McKeown said, “Private laws, not copyright, may offer remedies tailored to Garcia’s personal and reputational harms.” Unfortunately, the right to be forgotten is not recognized by the United States, she said.
An earlier order to Google and YouTube to take down the video was “unwarranted and incorrect,” the majority concluded.
Case: Garcia v. Google Inc., 12-57302