YouTube should not have been forced to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to actors, a federal appeals court has ruled.
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Google, which owns YouTube, after free speech advocates urged the court to overturn a 2-1 decision by three of its judges. The three judges had ordered YouTube to take down the video.
Actress Cindy Lee Garcia wanted Innocence Of Muslims removed from the site after receiving death threats. Her lawyer argued she had a copyright claim to the low-budget film because she believed she was acting in a different production.
Google argued Garcia had no claim to the film because the film-maker wrote the dialogue, managed the production and dubbed over her lines.
It was not immediately clear if or when the video would be reposted on YouTube.
The film inspired rioting by those who considered it blasphemous to the Prophet Mohammed and president Barack Obama and other world leaders asked Google to take it down.
Google, which said those requests amounted to censorship, was joined by an unusual alliance of film-makers, other internet companies and prominent news media organisations that did not want the court to alter copyright law or infringe on First Amendment rights.
YouTube and other internet companies were concerned they could be besieged with takedown notices, though it could be hard to contain the film which is still available online.
A lawyer for Google argued in December that if a bit player in a movie has copyright privileges, it could extend to minor characters in blockbusters, shatter copyright law and ultimately restrict free speech because anyone unhappy with their performance could have it removed from the internet.
“The ultimate effect is to harm the marketplace of speech,” lawyer Neal Katyal told the court.
Cris Armenta, a lawyer for Garcia, previously said the extraordinary circumstances justified the extreme action of a court injunction against YouTube.
“She is under threat of death if she is not successful in removing it,” Mr Armenta argued.
Garcia was paid 500 dollars for a movie called Desert Warrior she believed had nothing to do with religion, but ended up in a five-second scene in which her voice was dubbed over and her character asked if Mohammed was a child molester.
The film drew the attention of federal prosecutors, who discovered that film-maker Mark Basseley Youssef used several false names in violation of probation from a 2010 cheque fraud case. He was sent back to prison in 2012 and was released on probation in September 2013.