Actress in Anti-Islam Film Sues YouTube on Copyright Grounds

A California actress who appeared in the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” flick on YouTube is again asking a federal court to remove the anti-Islam footage that has spawned deadly protests and sparked a U.S backlash in the Middle East.

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia is now claiming a copyright interest in the film (.pdf), and says that Google ignored five DMCA takedown notices served on YouTube seeking removal of the film.

The latest development comes days after a Los Angeles County judge refused to take down the film in a previous suit. Garcia argued she was fired from her job, received death threats and was tricked into starring in the “hateful anti-Islamic production.”

In the latest move to have the courts remove the footage, Garcia claims she never signed a model release transferring her intellectual property rights to the maker of the 14-minute YouTube trailer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula of California. She claims she was duped, and thought she was making an adventure flick, not one in which the prophet Muhammad seemingly engages in oral sex with Garcia’s character.

The federal suit, in addition to naming the producer who uploaded the footage on July 2, targets Google-owned YouTube, which did not remove the film when the actress’ agent sent five takedown notices naming 17 URLs on Sept. 24 and 25. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, websites like YouTube are immune from an infringement suit if they promptly remove content at the request of a rights holder who asserts infringement.

“We are seeking the legally appropriate mechanism and the least politically controversial one to allow Google and YouTube to do the right thing,” Cris Armenta, Garcia’s lawyer, said in a statement.

Marc Randazza, a copyright attorney in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview that Garcia does not have a case against YouTube. “The default in an absence of a contractual agreement, the default is the director of the movie owns the copyright,” he said.

The federal lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles federal court, also provides documents that Garcia had applied to register her work with the U.S. Copyright Office.

“Because she did not assign her rights in her dramatic performance, or her copyright interests, nor was the film a ‘work for hire,’ her copyright interests in her own dramatic performance remain intact,” the suit says.

The White House had asked YouTube to review the footage to ensure that it comported with the media giant’s terms of service. YouTube did not remove it from U.S.-based viewers. However, YouTube has blocked the film in several countries, including Egypt, Libya, Indonesia, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Google, in response to the White House’s bid, has said the film was “clearly within our guidelines and so will stay on YouTube.”

Google did not immediately respond for comment on the latest lawsuit.