A California appeals court on Wednesday ordered Google to take down all copies of a controversial anti-Islamic movie, granting an injunction to an actress in the film who had filed a copyright claim after being subjected to global death threats.
In a 2-1 ruling, the court ordered Google to remove all copies of the 14-minute film, titled Innocence of Muslims, “from YouTube and any other platforms within its control and to take all reasonable steps to prevent further uploads.”
The obscure film, produced in 2012, touched off a global uproar that included riots and an Egyptian cleric’s fatwa calling for everyone involved to be put to death, including the actress, Cindy Lee Garcia.
Garcia, who received $500 for acting in the film, claimed she was tricked and that the producer dubbed offensive lines into the Arabic version of the film like “Is your Mohammed a child molester?” In response to the ongoing turmoil, Garcia claimed she had a copyright in the film in an attempt to force Google to remove it from YouTube. Google steadfastly refused the request and, in 2012, a federal judge sided with the company and refused to grant Garcia a temporary injunction.
In Wednesday’s ruling, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, writing for the majority, makes a series of unusual copyright arguments to explain why Garcia has rights in the film. While actors typically don’t have an independent copyright in their performances, Kozinski states that Garcia’s role was not a work for hire. The opinion also states that Garcia had given the producer an implied license to use herperformance, but that his subsequent conduct went beyond the terms of the license — meaning that she ultimately retained the copyright and could use it against YouTube.
The dissenting judge, however, declared that this was a strained interpretation of copyright and noted that the court had never made a similar finding. He added that “these facts may constitute a prior restraint of speech under the First Amendment” and found that the public interest sided with Google.
Google will challenge the ruling. A spokesperson said by email: “Today the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an actress in the Innocence of Muslims trailer may have a copyright claim over her five-second appearance in the video. As a result the court ordered Google to remove the video from our services. We strongly disagree with this ruling and will fight it.”
Here is a copy of the ruling with some of the relevant portions underlined.