YouTube may show ‘Innocence of Muslims’: US court

20 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Anti-Islamic video could go back on YouTube after copyright ruling.

In this 2012 file photo, Cindy Lee Garcia (right), one of the actresses in “Innocence of Muslims,” is shown holding a conference in Los Angeles asking a judge to issue an injunction demanding a 14-minute trailer for the film be pulled from YouTube. A federal appeals court says YouTube should not have been forced to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to actors. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Google, which owns YouTube, after free speech advocates urged the court to overturn a 2-1 decision by three of its judges. It also allays the fears of many copyright scholars and some technology companies that had worried about the precedent set by last year’s ruling, which effectively allowed a minor actor to control how the film was disseminated.

Protests over the film coincided with an attack on US diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including the US ambassador to Libya. Her theory of copyright law would result in splintering a movie into many different works, making “Swiss cheese of copyrights,” the judges wrote in their decision. According to the ruling, “Film producers dubbed over Garcia’s lines and replaced them with a voice asking, ‘Is your Mohammed a child molester?’” The 9th Circuit said Garcia’s argument “would enable any contributor from a costume designer to an extra to claim copyright in random bits and pieces” of a movie.

The film inspired rioting by those who considered it blasphemous to the Prophet Muhammad and President Barack Obama and other world leaders asked Google to take it down. Garcia had no copyright protection. “We have long believed that the previous ruling was a misapplication of copyright law,” said a spokeswoman for YouTube, in a statement. “We’re pleased with this latest ruling by the Ninth Circuit.” The decision “allows one person to subjugate another person for nefarious and hateful purposes using the First Amendment both as a sword and a shield,” said Ms. Copyright law is deliberately limited in its scope because its protections come at the expense of limiting the public’s freedom of speech,” said Raza Panjwani, policy counsel at Public Knowledge, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, who focuses on copyright and telecommunications law.

YouTube and other Internet companies were concerned they could be besieged with takedown notices, though it could be hard to contain the film that is still found online. Garcia had believed during production that she was appearing in a film called “Desert Warrior,” which was described as a “historic Arabian Desert adventure film.” She was paid $500 for her role in the film.

A lawyer for Google argued in December that if a bit player in a movie has copyright privileges, it could extend to minor characters in blockbusters, shatter copyright law and ultimately restrict free speech because anyone unhappy with their performance could have it removed from the Internet. She claims she was unaware that anti-Islamic material would be added in the post-production stage and that her voice was dubbed over in a five-second scene where her character asks if Mohammed was a child molester. The video drew the attention of federal prosecutors, who discovered that filmmaker Mark Basseley Youssef used several false names in violation of probation linked to a 2010 check fraud case. The court’s ruling on Monday dissolves a previous injunction by a three-judge panel requiring Google to remove the video, instead reinstating the earlier decision by the district court. The judges’ decision, they wrote in the Monday ruling, does not mean that a plaintiff like Garcia couldn’t have sought an injunction under different legal theories, like the right of publicity and defamation.

In its decision, the court wrote, “Innocence of Muslims may indeed be offensive, but we do not accept political terrorism or even judicial censorship as the answer.” “By ordering the removal of the filmmaker’s version of Innocence of Muslims for well over a year, we inappropriately cast aside the very tradition of robust dialogue that separates us from those who would wish harm upon persons whose speech they find offensive. Copyright experts last year reacted strongly to the three-judge panel’s decision, with many worrying that the ruling would unleash a torrent of copyright claims by bit-part actors and others. It is no answer to these basic concepts that the gag order was eventually vacated.” The Associated Press, which reported the court’s decision, said it wasn’t immediately clear if or when the video would be reposted on YouTube. The judges addressed this very point in their opinion Monday partly by referencing films with large casts, like “Ben-Hur” or the films of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

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