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US appeals court revisiting anti-Muslim film case

Court will decide if an actress can sue Google to remove “The Innocence of Muslims” from YouTube.
A United States appeals court announced Wednesday that it will reconsider whether Google must remove an anti-Muslim film from its YouTube video-sharing service.

“The Innocence of Muslims,” incited protests in several Muslim majority countries when it was released in 2012.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco announced that an 11-judge panel will rehear the case following a decision earlier this year by the court that ordered Google to remove the clip.

That panel sided with the plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who claims she was tricked into appearing in the film. She was cast in a minor role in a film supposedly entitled “Desert Warrior” and was told the film was a desert adventure story.

The film instead became “The Innocence of Muslims,” with Garcia’s lines overdubbed with inflammatory statements, including "Is your Muhammad a child molester?"

The film caused unrest in countries including Egypt and Libya and was reportedly used as a rallying cry for the Sept. 11, 2012, protests against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that caused the death of four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Those involved with the film were victims of death threats. An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa, or legal ruling, following the film’s release calling for the murder of everyone involved, according to opinion by the three-judge panel that issued the initial ruling.

“We look forward to continuing to advance Ms. Garcia’s copyright interests,” Cris Armenta, Garcia’s attorney, told reporters in an email. “Her right to be free from death threats, and her First Amendment right to be disassociated from hateful speech.”

Google argues that since Garcia appears for only five seconds in the film, her copyright case should be against the directors who fooled her, not YouTube.

“We’re pleased that the Ninth Circuit has agreed to reexamine this case,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “We strongly disagreed with the initial decision and look forward to making our arguments in court.”

Free speech scholars, online advocates and many Web companies such as Facebook and Netflix worry that if Garcia successfully sues Google, it opens the door to a slew of litigation for content providers.

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