Content Regulation / Censorship, Political Expression
Zhang v. Baidu.com, Inc.
Closed Expands Expression
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit en banc dissolved a mandatory injunction granted by a prior decision of a three-judge panel ordering Google to prevent the posting or remove the display of any version of the Innocence of Muslims video that included the plaintiff’s performance from YouTube and any other platforms within its control.
Cindy Lee Garcia was cast in a minor role for a film titled “Desert Warrior.” Though Desert Warrior never materialized, Garcia’s scene was used and dubbed in an anti-Islamic film titled “Innocence of Muslims,” which was uploaded to YouTube.com. After the film aired on Egyptian television, protests arose worldwide and Garcia began receiving death threats. She asked Google to remove the video from YouTube by filing five takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
When Google declined to comply, Garcia filed for a temporary restraining order seeking removal of the film from YouTube, claiming that the posting of the video infringed her copyrights in her performance. The district court in Los Angeles treated the application as a motion for preliminary injunction and denied it.
Garcia appealed to the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the panel majority reversed and granted Garcia’s preliminary injunction. The panel issued a takedown order instructing Google to remove all copies of the Innocence of Muslims video from YouTube and other platforms within its control. The panel later amended the order to allow YouTube to post any version of the film that did not include Garcia’s performance.
Google requested a rehearing en banc and the Ninth Circuit granted it. The Court of Appeals en banc concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Garcia’s request for the preliminary injunction, and as a consequence, the mandatory injunction against Google was unjustified and should be dissolved.
McKeown, M., delivered the opinion of the Ninth Circuit en banc. The majority of the court held that the injunction was unwarranted and incorrect as a matter of law and was a prior restraint that infringed upon Google’s First Amendment rights. “A weak copyright claim cannot justify censorship in the guise of authorship.”
The Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Garcia’s motion for a preliminary injunction under the copyright laws because neither the law nor the facts favored her claim. The Court observed that, unfortunately for Garcia, the “right to be forgotten” is not recognized in the United States as it is in Europe.
The en banc Court found that the mandatory injunction censored and suppressed a politically significant film based upon a dubious and unprecedented theory of copyright. The Ninth Circuit determined that the three-judge panel’s takedown order of a film of substantial interest to the public is a classic prior restraint of speech and that prior restraints pose the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights. Garcia could not overcome the historically heavy presumption against such restraints with a thin copyright claim to a five-second performance.
The Court of Appeals dissolved the injunction and affirmed the district court’s decision.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
By dissolving a previous injunction by the three-judge panel that had ordered Google to remove or prevent future uploads of any version of the Innocence of Muslims video that included Garcia’s performance, the Court of Appeals en banc determined that the injunction censored and suppressed a controversial film and that it was a prior restraint that infringed upon the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit acknowledged that the takedown order was unwarranted and incorrect as a matter of law and it could not be justified in light of the First Amendment values at stake.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
By dissolving a previous injunction issued by the Court’s three-judge panel that had ordered Google to remove and prevent future uploads of the Innocence of Muslims video that included Garcia’s performance, the Court of Appeals en banc determined that the takedown order was unwarranted and incorrect as a matter of law. The mandatory injunction censored and suppressed a controversial film. Such censorship amounts to a prior restraint that infringed upon Google’s First Amendment rights. Neither the law nor the facts compelled the suppression of the film.
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