A film, which has been described as “anti-Muslim,” was ordered to be removed from YouTube by a U.S, appeals court on Wednesday, following a split vote.
A divided three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, supported the position of actress Cindy Lee Garcia that the posting of the film “Innocence of Muslims” infringed her copyright ownership.
The court was addressing the technical issue of copyright control, not the content. It ruled that she was entitled to be consulted and to give her permission that the film could be shown; that was not the exclusive right of the filmmaker.
Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote for the majority court:
“Garcia’s performance was used in a way that she found abhorrent and her appearance in the film subjected her to threats of physical harm and even death. Despite these harms, and despite Garcia’s viable copyright claim, Google refused to remove the film from YouTube.”
Garcia’s claim was that she was tricked into appearing in the film by the writer and producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, using the pseudonym of “Sam Bacile.” She said the script she saw made no reference to either Mohammad or Muslims, and her voice was dubbed after filming.
In September 2012, Nakoula was arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly violating terms of his probation. He pleaded guilty to four of the charges and was sentenced to one year in prison and four years of supervised release.
The allegations that the 14-minute film is anti-Muslim probably relate to the depiction of Mohammad in one scene as a child of uncertain parentage, a buffoon, a womanizer, a homosexual, a child molester and a greedy, bloodthirsty thug – according to a report in The New York Times.
When the film was first screened in 2012, it sparked demonstrations and violent protests in Egypt which then spread to other Arab and Muslim nations – and even to some western countries. During the protests, hundreds were injured and there and over 50 deaths.
Despite the personal intervention of President Obama, the film was not taken down in America as YouTube argued that only the filmmaker could remove it since he owned the copyright.
YouTube also raised the issue of internet censorship and freedom of speech under the first amendment. Although it did remove the film in some countries, it said that it was only complying with the different laws in those countries which did not have the same rights to free speech that exist in the U.S.
Whether or not the film is anti-Muslim is obviously a matter of subjective judgment. The more important issues to be addressed are in the realms of freedom of speech and censorship. Is the world going to to have to continue to placate Muslims over perceived insults?