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26 Fordham Intell. Prop. Media & Ent. L.J. 463
Article by Elizabeth Martin*
he facts leading up to Garcia v. Google (Garcia I),1 a Ninth Circuit case reheard en banc (Garcia II),2 were just as strange as the effects of the original ruling. A casting call had been posted online for a film described as a “historical desert drama set in the Middle East”3 about a man named George and his gang of warriors.4 It was not until after the video was posted on YouTube, did the actors learn the true significance of the film. The film ended up being a fourteen minute anti-Islamic trailer, portraying the prophet Muhammad as a womanizer, pedophile, and murderer.5
The filmmaker intentionally deceived the actors.6 He caused them emotional distress and even invaded the actors’ privacy.7 Ultimately, one of the actors, Cindy Lee Garcia, and her attorney relied on a copyright claim in federal court to seek a motion for a preliminary injunction to have Google remove the film from YouTube.8
However, although Garcia had suffered harm, such as receiving death threats,9 the harms she had suffered cannot be appropriately remedied by copyright law. “Although we do not take lightly threats to life or the emotional turmoil Garcia has endured, her harms are untethered from—and incompatible with—copyright and copyright’s function as the engine of expression.”10 Authors cannot seek claims for emotional distress, defamation, or privacy by filing claims under copyright law.11
“Privacy laws, not copyright, may offer remedies tailored to Garcia’s personal and reputational harms.”12 Plaintiffs have attempted to use copyright law to resolve their issues, where privacy law would offer the best and most appropriate remedy to their harm. For example, there are individuals who want photos removed from websites because they have suffered privacy harms or they have suffered emotional distress. These individuals may attempt to use copyright law to have the photos removed, even though they have not suffered any harm related to the infringement of their copyright.
This Note will investigate how individuals attempt to use copyright law, instead of seeking damages for emotional distress or privacy, by using Garcia I and Garcia II as examples. Part I will provide background on Garcia I and Garcia II, the facts leading up to the lawsuit, the first decision and the criticism surrounding it, and the second decision. Part II will discuss what other legal methods Garcia may have used to achieve the same result and potentially obtain the same relief if she decided not to sue for copyright infringement. Part III will look beyond Garcia I and Garcia II at other types of situations where plaintiffs feel their best legal strategy is to sue for copyright infringement, even though their suits are more akin to defamation or privacy lawsuits, as a result of the protections for online hosts created by the Communications Decency Act.
* Notes and Articles Editor, Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal, Volume XXVI; J.D. Candidate, Fordham University School of Law, 2016; B.A., Boston College, 2012. I would like to thank Professor Hugh Hansen and Nick Bartelt for their advice and guidance. Thank you to Liz, Katie, and the IPLJ staff for all your hard work. Lastly, to my family and Vishrut, thank you for your support and encouragement.
Garcia v. Google (Garcia I), 766 F.3d 929 (9th Cir. 2014), rev’d en banc, 786 F.3d 733 (9th Cir. 2015).↩
See Garcia v. Google (Garcia II), 786 F.3d 733 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc).↩
Adrian Chen, “It Makes Me Sick”: Actress in Muhammed Movie Says She Was Deceived, Had No Idea It Was About Islam, Gawker (Sept. 12, 2012, 5:29 PM), http://gawker.com/5942748/it-makes-me-sick-actress-in-muhammed-movie-says-she-was-deceived-had-no-idea-it-was-about-islam [http://perma.cc/482F-E9CB].↩
See Michael Joseph Gross, Disaster Movie, Vanity Fair (Dec. 27, 2012, 12:00 AM), http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2012/12/making-of-innocence-of-muslims [http://perma.cc/M2H6-7Z35].↩
Serge F. Kovaleski & Brooks Barnes, From Man Who Insulted Muhammad, No Regret, N.Y. Times (Nov. 25, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/26/us/from-the-man-who-insulted-islam-no-retreat.html [http://perma.cc/DJ3D-74DM].↩
Garcia I, 766 F.3d 929 (9th Cir. 2014), rev’d en banc, 786 F.3d 733 (9th Cir. 2015).↩
Id. at 932–33.↩
Garcia II, 786 F.3d 733, 745 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc).↩