A federal appeals court handed down a victory to free speech Monday when it ruled the anti-Muslim video the Obama administration blamed for Benghazi should never have been forcibly removed from YouTube.
The full 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a 2-1 decision by three of its judge that ordered YouTube to remove “The Innocence of Muslims,” Fox News reported.
In 2012, the low-budget film inspired riots and demonstrations around the world by Muslims who considered it blasphemous. President Obama asked YouTube to remove the 14-minute video, but the company said it was within its guidelines because the film criticized Islam, not Muslims as a group.
YouTube voluntarily blocked the video in a handful of Muslim countries due to local laws, and to help quell what it called a “very difficult situation.”
In the original case, actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who had a bit part, sued to have the video taken down after she received death threats. Her lawyer argued she had a copyright claim to the video because she was deceived by the filmmaker about its real subject matter.
Lawyers for Google, which owns YouTube, countered Garcia’s claim, arguing that the filmmaker controlled all aspects of the product.
Garcia’s lawyer, M. Cris Armenta, said in a statement emailed to Reuters, “The decision short changes the threats on the life of Cindy Lee Garcia who did not voluntarily participate in the hateful message that the controversial trailer about the Prophet Mohammed espoused around the world.”
But free speech is more important, the court ruled, saying that Garcia’s argument “would enable any contributor from a costume designer to an extra to claim copyright in random bits and pieces” of a movie.
“The film, featuring a crude production, depicts the Prophet Mohammed as, among other things, a murderer, pedophile, and homosexual,” the court said in its ruling.
“In this case, a heartfelt plea for personal protection is juxtaposed with the limits of copyright law and fundamental principles of free speech.”
The movie’s producer, Mark Basely Youssef, was arrested in 2012 for violating probation from a 2010 check fraud case, and returned to prison before being released in 2013.
Youssef paid Garcia $500 to appear in a movie called “Desert Warrior,” but her lines were dubbed over in the final cut, where her character asked if Muhammad was a child molester.
Citing the public’s right to free speech, the American Civil Liberties Unions, along with Twitter and others had urged the court to rule in favor of Google.