×

SAG-AFTRA Defends Rights of Actors in ‘Innocence of Muslims’ Court Brief

SAG-AFTRA and other performers unions are weighing in on a lawsuit in which actress Cindy Lee Garcia’s  is seeking to force YouTube to remove the inflammatory “Innocence of Muslims” video that sparked protests in the Muslim world.

After YouTube refused to remove the “Innocence of Muslims” video, Garcia sought an injunction against the site, claiming that she had a copyright interest in her performance, even though she had only a minor role in the movie.

In an amicus brief filed with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the actors unions argue that court precedent has recognized that a performance copyrightable, and that in certain “rare circumstances,” actors can claim a separate copyright to their work. But they are not rendering a judgment on whether Garcia herself has a copyright claim to her brief appearance in the video, other than to note examples where even short performances can be sufficiently original to warrant copyright protection.

Google and other Internet companies have warned that should the 9th Circuit accept Garcia’s rationale, it’ll cripple distributors if they have to obtain clearances from even minor characters in a project.

But in their brief, SAG-AFTRA and other organizations argue that actors “are valued for their performance and the originality they bring for their respective roles. The actors imbue the lines with original expression that conveys emotion and brings the character to life.”

SAG-AFTRA is joined in the brief by the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada, the International Federation of Actors and Actors Equity Assn., along with other organizations.

They cited a 2007 case in which the 9th Circuit used the Pink Panther films as examples of original expression, citing Peter Sellers’ performances along with Henry Mancini’s score and Blake Edwards’ direction. They argue that such a reference “places the actor’s performance at the same level as the composer’s musical work.”

They say that the fears expressed by Google are overwrought because so many performers are hired in an employer-employee relationship, in which an actors work is “made for hire” and they assign a copyright interest to the producer. That employer-employee relationship is recognized in SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements. In other cases, the performer would be a joint author, with each author able to exploit a work non-exclusively.

The actors organizations, however, do not take a position as to whether Garcia’s performance “is properly considered her separately owned copyright or a joint work.” They do note that Garcia was not a SAG-AFTRA member.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled an en banc hearing on Dec. 15.

Garcia said that she received death threats as the video sparked protests. She said that she 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?”

In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the 9th Circuit sided with Garcia, with the majority disturbed by the idea that Garcia had no control over how her performance was being used. But last month, the 9th Circuit agreed to rehear the case in an en banc hearing.

 

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Ann Sarnoff Warner Bros

    Ann Sarnoff Formally Takes Reins of Warner Bros. as CEO

    The Ann Sarnoff era at Warner Bros. has begun. Sarnoff formally took the reins as Warner Bros. chair-CEO on Thursday, two months after she was appointed to the post. Sarnoff told employees in a memo that she has been impressed by the company’s track record during the past year amid a period of upheaval for [...]

  • Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein (L)

    Harvey Weinstein to Be Arraigned on New Indictment

    Harvey Weinstein is set to appear in court on Monday for an arraignment on a new indictment, the Manhattan D.A.’s office said Thursday. Prosecutors announced last week that they would seek a fresh indictment, which would allow actress Annabella Sciorra to testify at Weinstein’s trial. The move came after Justice James Burke ruled on Aug. [...]

  • AI Technology David Beckham

    How AI Tech Is Changing Dubbing, Making Stars Like David Beckham Multilingual

    David Beckham does not speak Arabic, Hindi or Mandarin. But when the soccer legend starred in a PSA for malaria awareness this spring, he effortlessly switched among these and six other languages, thanks to cutting-edge technology that could soon change how Hollywood localizes its movies and TV shows. The PSA in question was produced with technology [...]

  • Eminem’s Publisher Sues Spotify, Claiming Copyright

    Eminem’s Publisher Sues Spotify, Claiming Massive Copyright Infringement

    Eminem’s publishing company Eight Mile Style filed a major copyright infringement lawsuit against Spotify late Thursday, claiming that the streaming giant has no license to host about 250 of Eminem’s songs, while also taking aim at the Music Modernization Act, the federal law enacted last year to improve royalty payments for songwriters. The news was [...]

  • iQIYI headquarters building in Beijing

    China’s iQIYI in Talks for Indonesia Expansion

    Chinese streaming firm iQIYI is in negotiations to expand further into Southeast Asia through a venture with Indonesia’s Media Nusantara Citra. iQIYI announced its first step outside Chinese-majority territories in June, when it revealed a linkup in Malaysia with pay-TV leader Astro. It also operates in Taiwan. In April, the company said that it planned [...]

  • Spotify logo is presented on a

    Spotify Triples Free-Trial Period on Premium Service

    Spotify today extended the free-trial period for its Premium service from one month to three, tripling the amount of time listeners can take full advantage of the streaming giant’s offerings without paying for them. According to the announcement, the offer is “always-on/not limited time,” and will roll out across Spotify Premium plans globally: Individual and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content