Google lost a bid to keep the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims” on YouTube. One of the actresses, Cindy Garcia, who wanted the film taken offline after receiving death threats, claims she has some copyright control over its distribution.
The 9th Circuit agreed: “Garcia may assert a copyright interest only in the portion of ‘Innocence of Muslims’ that represents her individual creativity, but even if her contribution is relatively minor, it isn’t de minimis.”
To be sure, this case goes far beyond a simple copyright claim. Innocence of Muslims, which depicts the prophet Muhammad as a sexual deviant, sparked global religious violence and coincided with the fatal assault on America’s Benghazi facilities.
Given the enormous debate around freedom of expression, security and religious attitudes, Google argues that the public has an interest in being able to see the film. As they argued in the rejected motion, “the First Amendment protects not just the right to express information, but to receive it.”
Additionally, Google argues that the court’s “rule would wreak havoc on movie studios, documentary filmmakers, and creative enterprises of all types by giving their most minor contributors control over their products.”
Movie studios often contract with people for minor roles that may not share their vision for the movie. Then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton got in hot water when an actress in one of her campaign ads claimed that she actually wanted Barack Obama to win.
For Clinton, it was a mere embarrassment. But it gives you an idea of the kind of ‘havoc’ Google is referring to if an actor with an ideological disagreement with the director could hamper distribution.
In fairness, Garcia isn’t so easily labeled the villain. It’s understandable that she wants a film taken offline that potentially threatens her life. Her claim may be valid and, if so, it puts Google in an awkward position of having to deal with not just studios, but every person who could hold any claim to copyright over a film on their site.
The suit is ongoing. You can read Google’s motion below: