San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to order Google to take down the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" video while a copyright lawsuit—based on a claim that the Copyright Office itself has rejected—is pending. As EFF explains, the decision sets a dangerous precedent that could have disastrous consequences for free speech.
"Innocence of Muslims" sparked protests worldwide in the fall of 2012. For a time, its anti-Islamic content was even linked to the violent attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, although that was later refuted. An actress named Cindy Lee Garcia, after being tricked into appearing in the film for just five seconds, claimed she held a copyright in that performance. She sued Google for copyright infringement and asked the court to order Google to take the video offline. The district court refused, noting that it could not restrain speech massed on nothing more than a highly debatable copyright claim. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that the copyright claim was not strong, but nonetheless ordered Google to take down all copies of the video. It even issued a gag order, preventing Google from talking about the controversial decision for a full week.
"This video is a matter of extreme public concern–the center of a roiling, global debate," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry said. "The injunction in place now means we can still talk about the video–but we can't see what we are actually talking about. While the injunction stretched the First Amendment beyond its intent, the gag order snapped it in half. It delayed the public and the press from discovering this unprecedented copyright decision, and prevented others from challenging the ruling."
In an amicus brief filed today, EFF argues that the full appeals court must reconsider the earlier decision in order to protect free speech in the debate over the film and also to safeguard the future of free expression online.
"This decision means that any number of creative contributors–from actors to makeup artists to set designers–could be entitled to royalties and even control over the distribution of works they were paid to contribute to," said EFF Staff Attorney Nate Cardozo. "Such a rule would stifle creative expression for big studios and amateur filmmakers alike. While we can understand Garcia's desire to distance herself from this film, copyright law is not designed to address the harm she suffered by suppressing the global debate on a matter of public concern."
The American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, the Center for Democracy and Technology, New Media Rights, the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Association of Research Libraries joined EFF in this brief.
For the full amicus brief:
For more on Garcia v. Google:
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Intellectual Property Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation