An actress who appeared in an anti-Muslim film that sparked deadly violence in the Middle East lost her legal challenge on Thursday to have the 14-minute trailer taken down from YouTube.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin rejected the request from Cindy Lee Garcia because she wasn't able to produce any agreement she had with the makers of Innocence of Muslims and the man behind the film hadn't been served with a copy of her lawsuit.
Garcia's lawsuit aimed to have the video removed from YouTube's site that has been linked to protests that continue to rage across the Middle East and killed at least 30 people in seven countries, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Garcia's attorney, Cris Armenta, told reporters Thursday that her client plans to return to court in three weeks with more evidence to bolster her case.
While it's unclear how Lavin's decision would be interpreted outside of the U.S., the lawsuit had little chance of succeeding because of a federal law that protects third parties from liability for content they handle, legal experts said.
"From the beginning this was a Hail Mary pass," said Jeremiah Reynolds, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in intellectual property and First Amendment cases. "I think they hoped the judge would have enough sympathy for this woman to have him take the video down."
Garcia on Wednesday filed a lawsuit for fraud and slander against Internet search giant Google and Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the man behind the video who has gone into hiding since it rose to prominence last week.
'She did not sign on to be a bigot.'—Cris Armenta, Cindy Lee Garcia's lawyer
She claimed she was duped by Nakoula and that the script she saw referenced neither Muslims nor Prophet Muhammad. She also said her voice had been dubbed.
Her lawsuit mirrors similar claims made by those who said they were fooled by actor Sacha Baron Cohen during the making of "Borat" and "Bruno." The British comedian was unsuccessfully sued by some who appeared in his movie who weren't familiar with his outlandish characters.
"Although this is a much more serious situation, the [legal] analysis should be the same," Reynolds said. "It's an act that is protected by the First Amendment."
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has refused requests to remove the film by both Garcia and the White House. However, the company has blocked users in Saudi Arabia, Libya and Egypt from viewing the clip as well as Indonesia and India because it violates laws in those countries.
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Cindy Cohen, the legal director for San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said Garcia does have a claim against the filmmaker but not against Google.
"The law protects Google here because they aren't the producers of the film," Cohen said. "You don't want a situation where the host is responsible for the content. Then nobody would ever be a host."
Garcia's lawsuit contends that keeping the film online violates her right of publicity, invades her privacy rights and that post-filming dialogue changes cast her in a false light.
"I think we need to take it [the film] off because it will continue to cause more problems," she said. "I think it's demoralizing, degrading."
Actress receiving threats
Garcia said she has been threatened at least eight times and has called the FBI but she hasn't heard back from federal agents.
Armenta argued in court that her client was used as a puppet to make the film, and she was clearly defrauded and lied to by the people behind the movie.
"She did not sign on to be a bigot," Armenta said.
Timothy Alger, the lawyer representing Google at Thursday's hearing, said the Internet company shouldn't be responsible for what transpired between Garcia and the filmmakers. He said no matter how someone views the content "it is something of widespread debate."
Garcia could seek to have a judge grant an injunction against Nakoula to order him to remove the video, but it wouldn't accomplish what Garcia set out to do.
"It would have little to no effect because other websites are showing the film," Reynolds said. "It would be a moot point."