The online fate of the bizarre, terrible little anti-Muslim film called Innocence of Muslims is up for debate again today. It would have been considered camp if it hadn't been blamed by the Obama Administration for terrorism and Mideast violence (including the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya).
The movie has been forced off YouTube not because of these invocations of terrorist agitation, but rather over an unusual copyright claim. The actors who were in the movie say they were deceived and filmed a movie called Desert Warrior, only to have their lines dubbed over with anti-Muslim propaganda. One actor, Cindy Lee Garcia, sued to force the movie off the Internet. She claimed copyright ownership of her own performance, and therefore demanded the video be taken down. Google, owner of YouTube is resisting, but earlier in the year a split federal appeals court panel, led by Judge Alex Kozinski, accepted Garcia's copyright argument, even though she was paid for her short performance and was not the filmmaker. Now it's before the full court.
Experts think the ruling is unlikely to stand and creates some bad precedents on the way to trying to be kind to Garcia, who has received death threats over her small role in the short video. From the Associated Press:
Google is supported in its appeal by an unusual alliance that includes filmmakers, Internet rivals such as Yahoo and prominent news media companies such as The New York Times that don't want the court to infringe on First Amendment rights.
Garcia has support from the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Musicians.
If the court upholds the smaller panel's ruling, YouTube and other Internet companies could face takedown notices from others in minor video roles.
Alex Lawrence, a copyright and intellectual property lawyer in New York not connected with the case, said he thinks the court will reverse the earlier ruling because the judges reached a decision to give Garcia some relief on thinly grounded law.
"There's a lot of sympathy for Miss Garcia," Lawrence said. "She got paid $500 and received death threats. Everyone feels sympathy for her, but using copyright in this way is a real problem for a lot of industries."
In March, Jerry Brito noted the problematic precedent that could be set if the ruling in favor of Garcia stands. He noted, "If this decision is allowed to stand, it will encourage actors everywhere to begin to assert separate copyrights over their performances in films in which they have appeared." Read more here.