I admit that the title of this article may be a bit deceiving. Making films, like any other production of art, is almost always an act of free speech. However, the Ninth Circuit was recently faced with a dilemma of determining this issue in connection with an anti-SLAPP motion brought against a screen writer who
Cindy Lee Garcia thought she was playing a bit part in “Desert Warrior,” an adventure film being made by an amateur film maker. The film was never completed. Instead, Ms. Garcia’s performance was re-purposed, and her physical on screen appearance was used in a film titled “Innocence of Muslims,” with her voice redubbed, changing her speaking part so that she appeared to being asking, “Is your Mohammed a child molester?” The film was uploaded to YouTube. An outraged Muslim cleric saw the video and thereafter issued a fatwa directing his followers to kill everyone involved with the film. Ms. Garcia was nonplussed.
Garcia filed suit seeking, among other things, a restraining order directing Google to remove the film from YouTube. Primarily, Garcia claimed that the video infringed a copyright which gave her the exclusive right to control the use of her performance. Granting the injunction, the district court ruled that Garcia was likely to succeed on her copyright claim because it believed she held a valid copyright interest in her performance, and that the film maker had exceeded the terms of a license granted by plaintiff when she was misled into acting in “Innocent Muslim,” under the false pretense that she was playing in “Desert Warrior.” The court also determined that Garcia faced irreparable harm because Garcia had been receiving death threats. Google appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Initially the Ninth Circuit agreed with Garcia, however on May 18th, sitting en banc, the Ninth Circuit reversed.