SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court will reconsider whether Google Inc must remove from its YouTube video sharing service an anti-Islamic film that sparked protests across the Muslim world.
Earlier this year a three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with a woman who appeared in the film and ordered Google to take it down. An 11-judge panel will now rehear the YouTube case, the court said on Wednesday.
The plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, objected to the film after learning it incorporated a clip she had made for a different movie, which had been partially dubbed and in which she appeared to be asking: “Is your Mohammed a child molester?”
On Wednesday, Garcia’s attorney Cris Armenta said her legal team will continue to advance Garcia’s copyright interests and “her right to be free from death threats.” In a statement, Google said it is pleased the court agreed to reexamine the case because it strongly disagreed with the initial decision.
By a 2-1 vote, a 9th Circuit panel rejected Google’s assertion that the removal of the film “Innocence of Muslims” amounted to a prior restraint of speech that violated the U.S. Constitution.
The decision raised questions on whether actors may, in certain circumstances, have an independent copyright on their individual performances. Several organizations, including Twitter, Netflix and the ACLU, filed court papers opposing that idea and urging the court to rehear the case.
The controversial film, billed as a trailer, depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a fool and a sexual deviant. It sparked a torrent of anti-American unrest among Muslims in Egypt, Libya and other countries in 2012.
That outbreak coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya. For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is considered blasphemous.
In court filings, Google argued that Garcia appeared in the film for five seconds, and that while she might have legal claims against the director, she should not win a copyright lawsuit against Google.
The film has now become an important part of public debate, Google argued, and should not be taken down.
Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Bernard Orr