WASHINGTON – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday ordered YouTube to take down an anti-Islamic movie that triggered protests in the Muslim world after an actress alleged she had been duped into appearing in it.
The 2012 appearance of “Innocence of Muslims” on Google’s video-sharing site provoked deadly violence, but the current legal case against it relates only to the concerns of one of its stars.
U.S. actress Cindy Lee Garcia brought a lawsuit claiming she was tricked into appearing in the film without realizing its provocative anti-Muslim slant, and has received death threats as a result of it.
A lower court refused to grant an injunction forcing Google to remove the film while her case goes forward, but on Wednesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision.
Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the 37-page ruling: “While answering a casting call for a low-budget amateur film doesn’t often lead to stardom, it also rarely turns an aspiring actress into the subject of a fatwa. But that’s exactly what happened to Cindy Lee Garcia when she agreed to act.”
He ruled that Garcia had established she could suffer “irreparable harm” if the film was not taken down “because she was subject to death threats.”
The amateurish movie, which depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a thuggish deviant, triggered a wave of violent protests that left dozens dead in September 2012.
During the period of the protests, militants attacked the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three more Americans were killed, although the extent to which popular local anger over the film played a role in the assault is a matter of fierce debate in the US.
Google, which refused to take the video down, arguing that it would violate its freedom of speech rights under the U.S. Constitution, did not immediately react to Wednesday’s ruling.
Garcia was paid about $500 for three and a half days of filming on the movie, which had the working title “Desert Warrior,” after being cast by producer Mark Basseley Youssef, who had a variety of pseudonyms.
“Desert Warrior” never materialized, and Garcia’s only realized what had become of the footage when she saw “Innocence of Muslims” on YouTube.
“She discovered that her brief performance had been partially dubbed over so that she appeared to be asking, ‘Is your Mohammed a child molester?’” Kozinski wrote.
“These, of course, are fighting words to many faithful Muslims and, after the film aired on Egyptian television, there were protests that generated worldwide news coverage.”
Garcia asked eight times for the film be taken down, but Google refused to comply, so she applied for a restraining order seeking removal of the film from YouTube, claiming that it infringed her copyright in her own performance.
Youssef was jailed in November 2012 for breaching the terms of his probation for a previous offense — a bank fraud conviction in 2010 — by using a series of pseudonyms, including Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and Sam Bacile.
He was released last year. In November, he told the Hollywood Reporter that he was seeking partners to make a new movie and a TV show about the roots of Islamic terrorism.