The inflammatory “Innocence of Muslims” video generated international headlines when it was the source of Muslim protests in 2012, but it also triggered a legal tangle that Google argued threatened the status quo of copyright law.
Now the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to rehear the case, in which actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who had a minor role in the movie, sought an injunction to force YouTube to take down the video. Earlier this year, in a 2-1 decision, a panel of the 9th Circuit sided with her, holding that even though she had a minor role in the movie, she had a copyright interest in her performance.
Google and other tech firms were surprised by the decision, as were industry groups like Film Independent and the Intl. Documentary Assn., who argued that it would make a mess out of rights issues if performers in even small roles could make claims of ownership. Netflix, eBay, Facebook and Twitter were among the firms that lent their names to amicus briefs, contending that it posed “a serious threat” to business if online service providers are required to monitor their services for all possible copyright infringements.
In an order issued on Wednesday, Judge Sidney Thomas wrote that the case will be reheard in an en banc hearing sometime during the week of Dec. 15, which may signal that enough judges disagree with the original appellate opinion. Thomas also wrote that the three-judge panel’s opinion would not have any precedent.
The original appellate ruling was revised in July, acknowledging that the U.S. Copyright Office had turned down Garcia’s effort to register a copyright of her performance.
But the judges on the panel, led by Chief Judge Alex Kosinski, were still troubled by the fact that Garcia was told that she was performing in a movie called “Desert Warrior,” yet the movie’s writer and producer, Mark Basseley Youssef, instead turned it into “Innocence of Muslims,” with her voice dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?” They also were disturbed that she was receiving death threats after its posting on YouTube.