Judge Says Anti-Muslim Clip Can Stay on YouTube
LOS ANGELES - A 14-minute film trailer blamed for protest violence in the Middle East will remain on YouTube, after an actress lost her legal challenge to take it down.
Cindy Lee Garcia, who appeared in "Innocence of Muslims," asked a judge to order the video removed in a Los Angeles County court Thursday.
But Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin rejected Garcia’s request because she wasn’t able to produce any agreement she had with the makers of "Innocence of Muslims" and the man behind the film hadn’t been served with a copy of her lawsuit.
Garcia’s attorney, Cris Armenta, told reporters that her client plans to return to court in three weeks with more evidence to bolster her case.
The video posted to YouTube has been linked to protests that continue to rage across the Middle East. The White House has asked YouTube to take it down and the company has refused, saying it doesn’t violate its content standards.
While Thursday’s legal ruling might further antagonize protesters, the lawsuit had little chance of succeeding because of a federal law that protects third parties from liability for content they handle, legal experts said.
"From the beginning this was a Hail Mary pass," said Jeremiah Reynolds, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in intellectual property and First Amendment cases. "I think they hoped the judge would have enough sympathy for this woman to have him take the video down."
Garcia is suing for fraud and slander against Internet search giant Google, which owns YouTube, and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the video who has gone into hiding since it gained attention.
The 14-minute trailer depicts Muhammad as a womanizer, religious fraud and child molester.
Garcia claimed she was duped by Nakoula and that the script she saw referenced neither Muslims nor Muhammad. She also said her voice had been dubbed over after filming.
Her lawsuit mirrors similar claims made by those who said they were fooled by actor Sacha Baron Cohen during the making of "Borat" and "Bruno." The British comedian was unsuccessfully sued by some non-actors who appeared in his movie who weren’t familiar with his outlandish characters.
"Although this is a much more serious situation, the (legal) analysis should be the same," Reynolds said. "It’s an act that is protected by the First Amendment."
Cindy Cohen, the legal director for San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Garcia does have a claim against the filmmaker but not against Google.
"The law protects Google here because they aren’t the producers of the film," Cohen said. "You don’t want a situation where the host is responsible for the content. Then nobody would ever be a host."
Garcia’s lawsuit contends that keeping the film online violates her right of publicity, invades her privacy rights and that post-filming dialogue changes cast her in a false light.
"I think we need to take it (the film) off because it will continue to cause more problems," she said. "I think it’s demoralizing, degrading."
Garcia said she has been threatened at least eight times and has called the FBI but she hasn’t heard back from federal agents.
Armenta argued in court that her client was used a puppet to make the film, and she was clearly defrauded and lied to by the people behind the movie.
"She did not sign on to be a bigot," Armenta said.
Timothy Alger, the lawyer representing Google at Thursday’s hearing, said the company shouldn’t be responsible for what transpired between Garcia and the filmmakers. He said no matter how someone views the content "it is something of widespread debate."
YouTube has blocked users in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Egypt from viewing the clip, as well as Indonesia and India, because it violates laws in those countries.
Garcia could seek to have a judge grant an injunction against Nakoula to order him to remove the video, but it wouldn’t accomplish what Garcia set out to do.
"It would have little to no effect because other websites are showing the film," Reynolds said. "It would be a moot point."