Cindy Lee Garcia, a would-be actress who appeared in the propaganda film Innocence of Muslims, embarked on a quixotic case against one of the world's wealthiest corporations, Google.
She sued, saying she was tricked into appearing in a movie she didn't know would almost start World War III, and that she had endured threats on her life as a result. Still, Google argued that the woman agreed to be in the public light, and fought her lawsuit demanding that the tech giant remove the video from YouTube.
Today Google lost:
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today ordered Google to take the propaganda clip down from YouTube.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote this:
While answering a casting call for a low-budget amateur film doesn't often lead to stardom, it also rarely turns an aspiring actress into the subject of a fatwa. But that's exactly what happened to Cindy Lee Garcia when she agreed to act in a film with the working title “Desert Warrior.”
Garcia's attorney, M. Cris Armenta, said this in a statement:
We are delighted that the Ninth Circuit has recognized the significant threat to Cindy Lee Garcia's life and safety caused by Google and YouTube's refusal to remove the propaganda film Innocence of Muslims from the YouTube platform after Ms. Garcia made eight separate requests that they do so.
It was, she said, “the right thing to do.”
If the ruling stands, it could set a precedent, however, for the removal of material when just one participant objects. We'd expect Google to appeal or at least ask for an en banc review, which would put the matter before a larger panel of the court.
We reached out to Google for its response but had yet to hear back.
As you probably know, Innocence was blamed, in part, for Muslim outrage that led to a raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens in the summer of 2012.
The role the film played has been disputed, with some conservatives pointing to al-Qaeda-connected militants as the main culprit.
The New York Times, however, concluded late last year that al-Qaeda influence in the attack was nil and that the propaganda clip, produced by an L.A. Coptic Christian known as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, was indeed one of the attack's sparks.
Kozinski argued that the harm done to Garcia was greater than the right of Google and the filmmaker to show the work:
These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, calling for the killing of everyone involved with the film, and Garcia soon began receiving death threats.
A preliminary injunction was issued ordering Google to take the clip down.
Our prediction, however, is that this ruling will ultimately be overturned. You can never put this cat back in the bag. (We could imagine half the porn stars, ever, suing over being tricked into uses of their imagery they didn't expect.)
The world will not forget Garcia's face. So why trample on freedom of speech? As the court itself notes:
… By hiring Garcia, giving her the script and turning a camera on her, Youssef implicitly granted her a license to perform his screenplay.
[Update at 3:25 p.m.]: LA Weekly has learned Google will ask the court for an en banc review, which will put the matter before a larger panel of the Ninth Circuit.
A spokesperson sent us this statement this afternoon:
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.