Google has been ordered by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to remove all copies of a controversial film from YouTube that ignited international protest. Innocence of Muslims was released in July 2012 and sparked deadly riots worldwide, but an actress who was involved with the filming says the script she filmed and the script that aired are two entirely different films.
Cindy Lee Garcia approached YouTube about removing the film in November 2012, asserting that she had a copyright interest in the film. YouTube refused, and the matter went to a higher court. At the time, the judge presiding over the case said that Garcia did not have an interest in the film because she was a hired actress. Her lawyers disagreed and took the matter to the 9th Circuit. 9th Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ultimately ruled that she did, in fact, have an interest in the film.
Google’s argument was that Garcia did not own the part in the film, simply because it was filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, also known as Sam Bacile, who wrote the dialogue and later dubbed over her part. In his ruling, Kozinski said that all actors must imbue some creativity into their roles, and that was why Garcia did have a copyrighted interest in the film. He said he did not believe that acting was simply a matter of reading words on a page and noted that Garcia would have to internalize something of the dialogue she had been initially given in order to lend some credibility to the role. Garcia said that since the film hit YouTube, she has received death threats and “irreparable harm”.
Nakoula, who served time for a 2010 bank fraud, said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper that his film was wrongly blamed for the attacks in Benghazi by the Obama administration. He says the uproar over Innocence of Muslims put undue attention on him, and that the president’s administration needed to ensure they took a little more time to think matters through before they acted on problematic situations, such as the Benghazi attack.
Garcia’s lawyer, M. Chris Armenta, said that Garcia believed she was involved in an Egyptian adventure film called Desert Warrior, and had she known exactly what sort of film she was going to be involved in, she would not have agreed to work with the filmmakers. Garcia argued that her entire dialogue was redubbed after she had finished filming, and that completely new dialogue had been put in its place over her voice. “Is your Mohammed a child molester?” was among the new dialogue’s more controversial lines.
The film’s release happened to coincide with the July 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, which four Americans, including a US ambassador, and sparked worldwide outrage. In ordering Google to remove the controversial film from YouTube, Kozinski has inadvertently sparked a debate as to who owns a protected interest in films and who does not. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have yet to comment on the ruling.
Google has apparently been stunned by the order to remove the anti-Islamic film and calls it “a classic incursion into the First Amendment”. The web juggernaut immediately made an emergency motion to stay the judge’s decision until a rehearing could occur. The 9th Circuit denied the motion, but Kozinski has remanded the case back to district court. The company also did not understand why the entire film would have to be removed when Garcia’s appearance in it was minimal.
A search for Innocence of Muslims nets some 36 million hits on Google and 54,500 on YouTube. Many of these include the film in its entirety, commentary about the film, and news reports. In spite of the order to remove the film from YouTube, the matter will be reheard by a district court in the near future.
By Christina St-Jean