The video-sharing service YouTube argues in
new court papers that it has a free-speech right to continue to display the controversial "Innocence of Muslims" clip.
"Our laws permit even the vilest criticisms of governments, political leaders and religious figures as legitimate exercises in free speech," YouTube says in a brief filed last week with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The company's latest papers are in response to actress Cindy Lee Garcia's request for an order requiring YouTube to immediately remove the clip. Garcia, who is suing the company for copyright infringement, is seeking an order requiring YouTube to take down the clip while her case is pending.
She says she has received death threats since the incendiary 14-minute clip surfaced.
YouTube counters that an injunction at this time -- before there has been a trial on the copyright issues -- would amount to an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.
Garcia filed suit last September, shortly after the film drew worldwide attention. She argues that she owns a copyright interest in her performance and never signed a release allowing the producer to display the film.
Late last year, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Fitzgerald in the Central District of California rejected Garcia's copyright arguments. He ruled that as an actress, Garcia doesn't currently own a copyright in the finished product. He added that even if Garcia at one time owned an interest in her performance, she implicitly assigned it to the film's author.
Garcia appealed that ruling to the 9th Circuit. She contends that she still owns a copyright interest in her performance and that any license she might have granted was for the movie she thought she was making -- an adventure film called "Desert Warrior" -- rather than the clip that was posted to YouTube.
Garcia says that she was duped into making "Innocence of Muslims" after answering a Backpage casting call for an adventure film called "Desert Warrior." She alleges that she never spoke the dialogue that is in the incendiary clip; instead, it was dubbed in after filming.
But YouTube says Garcia's allegations don't amount to copyright infringement. Garcia "is not the author of the film or even the scene containing her performance; instead, she is a mere contributor whose main 'contribution' (reading lines from a script provided to her) was dubbed over by others," YouTube argues.
The company adds that Garcia's "real grievance" -- the "distortion of her brief performance in the film so as to make her character appear to mock Islam and Mohammed" -- doesn't have anything to do with copyright infringement. YouTube also points out that even if it takes down the film, it has already been seen and copied by "countless" people who can still distribute it.