Netflix, ACLU push to keep anti-Muslim video online

A coalition of major tech companies and online rights groups are pushing an appeals court to overturn a previous ruling and allow a controversial anti-Muslim YouTube video to return to the Internet.

Netflix, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and a top tech industry trade organization are among the groups that filed friend-of-the-court briefs urging the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn its previous ruling.

Keeping the offensive video down, they claimed, would set a precedent that could threaten to limit free speech and do serious damage to companies on the Internet.

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The “Innocence of Muslims” video sparked a global outrage and a number of anti-American protests, when it was released online in 2012. The Obama administration initially linked the video to the attack on the American diplomatic annex in Benghazi, Libya, that year, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Officials later changed their account based on intelligence to the contrary.

After it came out, actress Cindy Lee Garcia sued Google asking for the company to remove it from YouTube.

Garcia claims she signed up for a few days’ work in an adventure film wholly unrelated to “Innocence of Muslims.” In the end, filmmakers dubbed her voice to make offensive remarks about the prophet Muhammad, she has said. The ensuing controversy over the film led to death threats and forced her to leave her home.

In February, a three-judge panel on the appeals court ruled 2-1 that Google had to take the video down, on the grounds that Garcia had some copyright claim to the video.

Upholding that decision would “wreak havoc” on the business model of companies like Netflix, the company claimed in a brief filed on Tuesday, by allowing virtually anyone to have a film taken off the Internet. 

The ACLU, EFF and other digital rights groups argued that the 13-minute video clip “is central to a global debate” and “part of the historical record on freedom of the press, freedom of religion and international policy.” 

The Computer and Communications Industry Association — a trade group that counts Google among its members — argued that Garcia’s real problem is that she was misled about the video in the first place, which is not Google's problem.

The three-judge decision “portends an unmanageable situation” in which websites would be forced to deal with “frivolous or abusive takedown claims” from people with just a minor role in videos online, the group said.

An 11-judge panel is scheduled to review the case on Dec. 15.