An actress who had a role in the controversial anti-Muslim film Innocence of Muslims that sparked global riots in the Muslim world lost her legal challenge to get a judge to order the movie taken off YouTube. The controversial 14-minute video portrays Muhammad as a “womanizer, religious fraud, and child molester.” The actress, Cindy Lee Garcia, filed suit in a California Superior Court in Los Angeles and requested that Judge Luis Lavin order the movie to be removed from YouTube. Garcia claimed she was duped by the film’s producer and filmmaker. Specifically, Garcia said that producer and filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (also known as Sam Bacile) initially characterized the film as a historical adventure that contained nothing about Islam and did not attack Mohammed. However, Garcia claims that the title of the movie was originally Desert Warrior but had been changed to Innocence of Muslims and that her lines were altered by the time the film had been uploaded to YouTube. Garcia’s attorney argued that Garcia “did not sign on to be a bigot.”
Judge Lavin rejected Garcia’s request to have YouTube remove the film because Nakoula had not been served a copy of the lawsuit. Judge Lavin also noted that Garcia was not able to produce any agreement she had with the makers of the film. Furthermore, Judge Lavin cited a federal law that protects third parties from liability for content they disperse. Judge Lavin noted that the video, although incendiary, does not violate YouTube’s terms of service regarding hate speech. In response to Judge Lavin’s ruling, Garcia and her attorney claim that they will acquire more evidence to strengthen their case before returning to court in the next few weeks.
The controversial movie has reportedly sparked anti-American riots in several Muslim countries and was supposedly a catalyst in the killing of embassy officials in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. YouTube has blocked users in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Indonesia, India, and Egypt from viewing the anti-Muslim movie, because it violates laws in those countries. Garcia says she has received death threats and is no longer allowed to provide childcare for her grandchildren because of fear for their safety. There have been other efforts to have the video removed from YouTube. A week earlier, the White House had asked YouTube to take the video down but the company refused, explaining that the “video doesn’t violate its content standards.”
Garcia’s suit raises some interesting legal issues because the actress claims that the filmmaker and producer deliberately concealed the film’s purpose and content when Garcia was recruited. Moreover, Garcia alleges that important changes were made after filming was completed, most notably altered lines. The fraud claim against the filmmaker is similar to claims made by those who said they were tricked by actor Sacha Baron Cohen during the making of Borat. Cohen, a British comedian, was unsuccessfully sued by some non-actors who appeared in his film Borat who weren’t familiar with his unusual character. In the film, Cohen pretended to be a foreign journalist named Borat from Kazakhstan. The movie set up fake scenarios featuring non-actors whose interactions with Cohen’s character were filmed under the impression that the individuals were taking part in a documentary about the U.S. Specifically, the suit involved fraternity members from a South Carolina college who appeared intoxicated. The students made insulting comments about women and minorities to Cohen’s character. After the film’s release, the students brought suit against the filmmakers and producers claiming that they were duped; the students sought an injunction to stop the studio from displaying their image and likeness. The students had signed waivers but argued that the waivers were ambiguous and limited to a documentary-style film; the students also argued that the filmmakers got them drunk before they signed the forms. That suit was dismissed because the students had failed to show a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their case or that monetary damages would be insufficient to resolve their claims. Comparing the Borat case with the Innocence of Muslims case, Jeremiah Reynolds notes, “Although this is a much more serious situation, the (legal) analysis should be the same…It’s an act that is protected by the First Amendment.”