No Twisting Copyright Law to Remedy Other Tort Injuries

Cindy Lee Garcia agreed to act in the film, “Desert Warrior.”  The film’s producer dubbed blasphemous language into Garcia’s part and renamed the film “Innocence of Muslims.”  Garcia received death threats after the film went viral on You Tube.  Garcia sued Google for copyright infringement to force Google to take the film down.  The district court ruled in Google’s favor.  A three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ordered Google to take down the film.  The Ninth Circuit sitting en banc agreed with the district court’s initial ruling and dissolved the earlier injunction.

As Garcia characterizes it, “the main issue in this case involves the vicious frenzy against Ms. Garcia that the Film caused among certain radical elements of the Muslim community.” We are sympathetic to her plight. Nonetheless, the claim against Google is grounded in copyright law, not privacy, emotional distress, or tort law, and Garcia seeks to impose speech restrictions under copyright laws meant to foster rather than repress free expression. Garcia’s theory can be likened to “copyright cherry picking,” which would enable any contributor from a costume designer down to an extra or best boy to claim copyright in random bits and pieces of a unitary motion picture without satisfying the requirements of the Copyright Act. Putting aside the rhetoric of Hollywood hijinks and the dissent’s dramatics, this case must be decided on the law.

(Opinion pdf page 8).

The Ninth Circuit en banc opinion discusses both copyright and injunction issues.  This post focuses on the Ninth Circuit’s copyright analysis.  I previously wrote about this case in Actress’ “Innocence of Muslims” Copyright Claim Forces Google to Take it Down

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