A US appeal court has ordered YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violent riots in parts of the Middle East and death threats to the actors.
The decision by a divided three-judge panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco reinstated a lawsuit filed against YouTube by an actress who appeared briefly in the 2012 video that led to rioting and deaths because of its negative portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.
YouTube resisted calls by US President Barack Obama and other world leaders to take down the video, arguing that to do so amounted to unwarranted government censorship and would violate the Google-owned company's free speech protections. Besides, the company argued that the filmmakers and not the actors of Innocence of Muslims owned the copyright and only they could remove it from YouTube.
Typically, that is the case with the vast majority of clips posted on YouTube that do not violate decency laws and policies. The court said on Wednesday that the case was far from typical and that the actress, Cindy Lee Garcia, retained a copyright claim that YouTube must respect. That was because she believed she was acting in a different production than the one that appeared online.
"Had Ms Garcia known the true nature of the propaganda film the producers were planning, she would never had agreed to appear in the movie," said Cris Armenta, Garcia's attorney.
Writing for the court, chief judge Alex Kozinski said the ruling was not a blanket order giving copyright protection to every actor, but that in this case, Garcia's performance was worthy of copyright protection.
Youssef, the filmmaker, got 21 months in prison for cheque fraud in 2010 and was barred from accessing the internet without approval. He was returned to prison in 2012 for violating terms of his probation and was released on probation in September.