Innocence of Muslims Actress Adds Copyright Infringement to Legal Claims

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who appeared in the highly controversial anti-Muslim film, Innocence of Muslims, has filed new legal claims in federal court. The actress says she was duped into partaking in a film she didn’t know was radically anti-Muslim; and after receiving death threats and ongoing harassment she is taking extensive legal measures to get the film out of the public eye.

Garcia previously filed suit with the Los Angeles Superior Court against YouTube and Google, and the film’s suspected director, alleging fraud, slander and intentional infliction of emotional distress. She also petitioned the judge to order the clip that has caused horrendous violence and outrage in the Middle East and around the world, removed from YouTube. The judge denied her claim last week, according to a Reuters report.

The distraught actress is now claiming in new federal litigation that by showing the film, YouTube is violating her copyrights to the project. Garcia’s lawyer is likening the copyright issue to that of a celebrity sex tape released without permission, from which a person’s privacy rights are violated and harm is caused. On these grounds, she claims she never gave anyone permission, including to YouTube, to publish her performance and that she never signed a release form. Google, owner of YouTube, retorts that actors who appear in videos have no rights to protection from negative backlash from the viewing public, and thus they are not responsible to act in response to harm she is caused.

Copyright Protection Starts as Soon as a Work Is Created

The issue remains that if a person does not sign away copyrights of their work to another, they retain control over that work. Under copyright law, in order to have copyright protection, a person does not need to register their work; copyright protection is a given as soon as a work of intellectual property is created. Applying for an official copyright can provide a legal record and solidification of copyrighted work, but is not required for protection.

In order to win her federal case, Garcia and her lawyer will have to prove that her performance, or that any acting performance, is copyrightable. To aid in this effort, they have initiated measures to copyright her work on the film with the U.S. Copyright Office, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Defendants in the federal case will likely counter that the actress agreed to be in the film and was aware that it would be distributed to the public when it was filmed.

Nonetheless, Garcia and her legal counsel are not backing down and voicing strong opinions about the online video site’s refusal to remove the clip. “I think we should be very clear that Google and YouTube are doing the wrong thing, that they say in their own terms and guidelines that hate speech is not allowed,” Garcia’s attorney, Cris Armenta said, according to this news article. “How can this not be hate speech? How can this not be wrong, morally intellectually, legally?”

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