In a decision that rattled Hollywood and alarmed free speech advocates, a California court ruled earlier this year that an actress could use copyright law to force Google to remove a notorious anti-Muslim video from YouTube. Now, an actor who claims that, like the actress, he was tricked into appearing in the short movie, says Google is infringing his copyright by showing links to torrent sites.
In a complaint filed last week in Los Angeles federal court, the actor Gaylord Flynn asked for an injunction and damages against Google and against the maker of the film. Flynn stated that he thought he was acting in a non-religious film called Desert Warrior, but then was horrified to discover the film maker had posted a dubbed Arabic version of the film on YouTube in which the voice-overs insult the prophet Mohammed.
The posting of the film, known as “Innocence of Muslims,” led to riots in the Arab world and to an Egyptian cleric ordering a fatwa demanding that the actors and everyone else in the film be put to death. In the complaint, Flynn claims he has received death threats and is “in fear for his life.”
In response to the earlier lawsuit by the actress, the California court ordered Google to remove the film from YouTube and also to ensure that it did not appear on the site again. Many copyright lawyers criticized the decision, which is under appeal, as harsh and unusual, especially as it imposed a rare prior restraint on Google on the basis of flimsy legal grounds.
Now, Flynn appears to be trying to stretch the decision further by asking the court to take action against Google because the company’s search results include links to torrent sites like the Pirate Bay and Torrentz.eu where links to “Innocence of Muslims” can be found. In an unusual legal theory, Flynn explained:
Defendant Google is liable because it directs and participates in, and benefits from, the torrent sites’ infringing conduct as alleged herein, and its corporate policies have been the guiding spirit behind and central figure in those infringing activities.
Google, which has vigorously protested the earlier ruling, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new lawsuit.
The copyright part of the earlier decision — on which Flynn relies — alarmed Hollywood because it states that each actor in a film has a discrete right in their performances, and can control how the film is displayed. Ordinarily, performances are considered a work-for-hire or are assigned to studios by license.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the actress this summer when Google appealed the first case, but Google is now waiting to hear if it may bring its appeal of the case, known as Garcia, before a full panel of judges. Here’s a copy of the new complaint, which was spotted by IP lawyer Mark Jaffe. I’ve underlined some of the key parts:
This story was updated at 4:55PM ET to clarify that Google’s en banc appeal is still pending.
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