Fresh on the heels of accepting en banc review of the appeal over the constitutionality of the California Resale Royalties Act, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to rehear Google’s appeal of the injunction against it after actress Cindy Lee Garcia claimed a protectable copyright in her performance of “Innocence of Muslims.” While, as before, one should hesitate to read too much into the mere fact of en banc review, the three-judge panel under review now stands a good chance of being overturned (as it should).
Topics: Copyright Act, en banc, Libya, Youssef, YouTube, Innocence of Muslims, prior restraint, 17 U.S.C. § 106, Copyright, First Amendment, intellectual property, Cindy Lee Garcia, Fair Use, Google, Benghazi, work for hire
Like a bad 1980s movie, the most infamous copyright decicion of the year has now spawned a sequel. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has been considering since early March whether to rehear en banc its decision in favor of Cindy Lee Garcia concerning her performance in the movie Innocence of Muslims. Plaintiff Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses in the video, claimed that she had no idea what the movie was to turn out to be when she performed her scenes, and that the Islamophobic audio had been dubbed over whatever she actually said when filming. She then sued, arguing that her performance was an independently copyrightable work, such that the producers needed her permission to distribute and reproduce it. The complaint was universally disregarded by copyright experts when it was filed. This reaction was so nearly unanimous because Garcia’s performance (which, it was later learned, had been denied registration by the Copyright Office) seemed clearly to be a work for hire, or a joint work—if Garcia’s performance even met the other requirements for copyright.
While the appeal by Google of an order to take down any copies of “Innocence of Muslims” awaits a decision by the Ninth Circuit on Google’s request for rehearing, there has been a development back down in the District Court. Cindy Lee Garcia initially sought a preliminary injunction against Google to remove the availability of the video on YouTube, but she also sued many whom she alleged was the producer of the movie—Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, aka Mark Youssef—alleging that she had acted in a project she never knew would be used for the ultimate film, and that her dialogue was dubbed with the words that later caused such uproar and deadly violence. When the preliminary injunction was denied by the District Court (in large part because of the court’s finding that she could not prevail on the merits of her copyright claim that she held an independent right in her acting performance), it appears that the remaining case was stayed as she went up on appeal of the injunction ruling.
Just two days after the parties submitted briefing (including the revelation that Cindy Lee Garcia's registration request had been rejected by the U.S. Copyright Office) on a Ninth Circuit judge's sua sponte request for a vote on whether to rehear the denial of a stay of the Court's February 26, 2014 decision finding a likelihood that Garcia had a copyrightable performance in "Innocence of Muslims," the Court has voted not to reconsider that denial, and the ruling stands in force for now. This decision only affects Google's request not to be required to take down all copies of the video from YouTube while the appeal is pending, a take down that it will now have to continue or be completed. The decision offers no rationale, other than that a majority of the court voted not to stay the matter.