LOS ANGELES — An anti-Muslim movie trailer that set off protests in 2012 returned to the spotlight on Monday when a federal appeals court ruled that YouTube should not have been forced to remove the crude video from its website.
In a victory for free speech advocates, an 11-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco rejected a copyright claim by Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who appeared unwittingly, she said, in the “Innocence of Muslims” trailer. Ms. Garcia had earlier won the forced removal from YouTube of the video, which depicted the Prophet Muhammad as a bloodthirsty thug.
“In this case, a heartfelt plea for personal protection is juxtaposed with the limits of copyright law and fundamental principles of free speech,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in the ruling. “The appeal teaches a simple lesson — a weak copyright claim cannot justify censorship.”
Ms. Garcia, who was supported by some Hollywood guilds in her case, pursued legal action after the trailer resulted in death threats. (The full movie has never materialized.) She said the “Innocence of Muslims” filmmaker, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, tricked her into appearing and secretly dubbed over her dialogue with anti-Muslim rhetoric. Ms. Garcia, who was paid $500 for her work, thought she was a bit player in a sword-and-sandal movie called “Desert Warrior.”