DAVID GREENE, HOST:
"The Innocence of Muslims" is a YouTube video that some say denigrated the Prophet Mohammed and potentially sparked violence in the Islamic world. A federal appeals court forced Google, which owns YouTube, to take down the controversial video. But the court's reasoning had nothing to do with the video's impact. It was all about a copyright claim.
NPR's Laura Sydell has the details. And just a warning - this report does contain some graphic language. It might not be appropriate for younger audiences.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Cindy Garcia landed a part in a movie - called "Desert Warriors" - a few years ago. She showed up for two days of filming on a set in LA.
CINDY GARCIA: I played the role of a mother, and I was interacting with my husband. He wanted to give my daughter in marriage, and I was arguing with him about it.
SYDELL: She didn't hear about the film again until she started getting calls from reporters.
GARCIA: About a year later, it shows up on television, with our president announcing that this 14-minute video caused the death of our ambassador and Navy SEALS. And my heart just sunk.
SYDELL: It's debatable whether the video played a role in the deaths of Americans in Libya. But there was violent reaction to it in Islamic countries such as Egypt. The film makes it seem as if Garcia's character says that Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, is a child molester.
GARCIA: It moved from my face to the man who played the role of my husband, and all you heard was the voice.
SYDELL: Garcia and her friends and family soon became a target.
GARCIA: There was e-mails that were sent to me, saying that the last face you're going to see will be mine; I'm going to cut your head off and put it on a pole; I'm going to rape your children.
SYDELL: Garcia helped found an orphanage in Malawi, and she says she can no longer travel there - or anywhere - safely. Garcia's appearance in the film is brief, but it's one of the most controversial moments. Garcia sent several take-down notices to YouTube, asserting that she had a copyright in her performance. Chris Armenta is her attorney.
CHRIS ARMENTA: The United States Copyright Act says that once your performance is fixed in a tangible expression - like, on film - you have a copyright. It's akin to someone writing a poem.
SYDELL: Google refused to take the video down. Google wouldn't talk on tape to NPR. But here is its attorney, Timothy Alger, during an argument in court.
TIMOTHY ALGER: Google and YouTube take very seriously their role as a forum for free speech. And if YouTube takes down just because of the say-so of someone that had a five-second appearance in a film like this, then where do we stop?
SYDELL: Google worries that all kinds of people who had bit roles will try and assert their rights if Garcia wins this case. The actual trial hasn't happened yet. But in its preliminary injunction, the court concluded that Garcia was likely to prevail, and that keeping the video up was causing her irreparable harm. The merits of Garcia's case are being hotly debated among copyright attorneys.
But the case also raises questions about YouTube's take-down procedures. YouTube is not a totally open platform. The company blocks pornography and hate speech. Armenta, Garcia's attorney, says Google takes down videos when record labels assert a copyright interest. Usually, the company doesn't put them back up unless the other party fights the claim. But the makers of the "Innocence of Muslims" never disputed Garcia's copyright.
ARMENTA: In this case, Google has taken a dramatic, unprecedented public stance to fight tooth and nail to try to keep this content up - and trying to recast this dialogue as a First Amendment dialogue, when that is just so intellectually dishonest on every level because it's not consistent with what Google and YouTube have done in the past.
SYDELL: But this video isn't like every video in the past, says Corynne McSherry, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. McSherry supports Google's fight to keep it up.
CORYNNE MCSHERRY: We have this video that is the center of any number of, actually, different controversies, right? We've got Benghazi. We've got complaints from the State Department. (Laughter) We've got all these different debates that this video is the center of. Well, now we can keep having those conversations, but we don't get to look at what we're talking about?
SYDELL: Google has taken down the video in Muslim countries around the world; among them, Egypt and Libya, where the company says it's complying with local laws. But if the film is put back up in the U.S. and other Western countries, Cindy Garcia worries that it will continue to turn her life upside down.
And now, another actor in the film has also filed a take-down claim. Garcia says she will persist in this case, if only to make it clear to everyone that she did not say the words that the filmmaker put in her mouth.
Laura Sydell, NPR news.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.