San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a coalition of technology and free speech organizations are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to fix a disastrously wrongheaded copyright ruling that required an online service provider to take offline—and keep offline—a controversial video that has been the center of a global debate.
This case, Garcia v. Google, centers on "The Innocence of Muslims," a short video on YouTube that sparked protests worldwide in the fall of 2012 with its anti-Islamic content. The video was even linked for a time to the attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, although that was later refuted.
"The Innocence of Muslims" includes a five-second performance from an actress named Cindy Lee Garcia, who says she was tricked into appearing in the film. Garcia sued Google under copyright law, insisting she had a copyright interest in her performance and demanding that Google take the video off YouTube and all other platforms. A district court refused to order the removal, noting that Garcia was not likely to succeed with her claim. A three-judge panel from the Ninth Circuit agreed that the claim was "debatable," but still ordered Google to remove all copies of "Innocence of Muslims" until the case was resolved.
"Based on an absurd copyright claim, the Ninth Circuit issued a order requiring an online platform to edit the historical record," said EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry. "The ruling may have been well-intentioned, but it was both bad law and bad policy and that will have dangerous consequences for future creators."
The ruling shocked many in the legal and creative communities, and Google appealed the panel's ruling to the full Ninth Circuit. In an amicus brief filed in that appeal today, EFF argues that the panel's order violates basic legal procedure, ignores the public's free speech rights, and undermines core copyright principles.
"Ms. Garcia understandably wants to distance herself from this film. She was hoodwinked, and she has legal options to hold the producer of this film to account. However, copyright infringement is not one of those options," said EFF Staff Attorney Vera Ranieri. "If allowed to prevail, this case will prompt abuse of the copyright system and chill protected speech."
The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New Media Rights, and Public Knowledge joined EFF in this brief.
For the full amicus brief in Garcia v. Google:
For more on this case:
Electronic Frontier Foundation