'Innocence of Muslims' actress sues filmmaker, YouTube in federal court

Cindy Lee Garcia, one of the actresses in "Innocence of Islam," is suing the producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.

Story highlights

  • Actress in anti-Islam film says producer misled her about film's plot
  • A state court has rejected her lawsuit against the producer
  • Now her lawyers are citing copyright issues in a federal suit

One of the actresses in "Innocence of Muslims," the anti-Islam film that ignited a firestorm in the Muslim world, is taking her civil case against the producer of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, to federal court.

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Los Angeles, Cindy Lee Garcia, an ordained minister and actor, asserts that Nakoula violated copyright law over her performance in the film, leading her to believe the movie was a historical adventure titled "Desert Warrior." When Nakoula allegedly posted a trailer on YouTube in July, it falsely portrayed Garcia as a character who made incendiary accusations against the Prophet Mohammed, the suit says.

According to the suit, Garcia did not sign a model release transferring her intellectual property rights to Nakoula or any production company. The film portrays the Prophet Mohammed as a womanizer, child molester and barbarian. The video has been widely condemned in the United States, most recently during President Obama's address to the United Nations General Assembly this week.

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On Monday, a California state court judge rejected an earlier claim by Garcia that she was a victim of fraud, invasion of privacy and misappropriation of her likeness. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin cited Garcia's failure to provide a contract agreement to the court. He also rejected her request for an emergency injunction to remove the trailer from YouTube, in part because Nakoula, a two-time felon, was not served with a copy of the lawsuit.

Nakoula was held without bail on Thursday in Los Angeles after being accused of violating probation in a 2010 bank fraud case. He had been on probation since being released from prison in June 2011 after serving 21 months. As a condition of his probation, Nakoula is prevented from using any other name or any computer-related devices without consent of his probation officer.

Garcia's modified federal suit asserts infringement of copyright, fraud, unfair business practice, libel and infliction of emotional stress. "Ms. Garcia and her attorneys are making every effort to locate Nakoula and personally serve him with the lawsuit so that he will be held accountable for the claims made by Ms. Garcia," according to her attorney, M. Cris Armenta.

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The lawsuit also names YouTube, LLC, the video sharing website on which the video has been posted, and YouTube, LLC's parent company, Google Inc., as parties in Garcia's infringement complaint. In her lawsuit, Garcia says she has not been able to locate a contract with the production company.

"Again, this is not a First Amendment case. But, the First Amendment does protect Americans' rights to freedom of express, and also the right to be free from expression," said attorney Armenta in a statement.

The suit says Garcia's words were overdubbed after her original performance, which she finds "personally and profoundly offensive." Last week, Garcia said she had been unaware that her voice was dubbed until the film was posted on YouTube. The lawsuit alleges even further voice-over alterations of her on-camera dialogue. "She does not condone the message in the film and would never willingly participate in such a hateful venture," Armenta said. According to Garcia, Nakoula, who identified himself as "Sam Bacile" during the production, misled her and other actors into appearing in a film they believed was a historical drama without any mention of the word Mohammed or any characterization of the Prophet Mohammed.

"Ms. Garcia's legal position, supported under the United States Copyright Act, is that at the point she delivered her 'dramatic performance' and it was fixed to film, she became a copyright holder. Because she did not transfer nor assign her interest, her copyright interests remain intact," the suit says.

The outbreak of violence coincided with an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that led to the death of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and two former Navy Seals.

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"Ms. Garcia continues to receive death threats due to the film's misrepresentation of her performance," Armenta said. "Despite the suggestions of defendants and their lawyers (to) go into hiding, she refuses to do so, because she refuses to become a victim of terrorism and defendant Nakoula's lies."

Google has refused to remove the film from YouTube, despite pressure from the Obama administration, though the company has prevented the trailer's release in Egypt and Libya. Garcia said in her lawsuit that an Egyptian cleric had issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against anyone who served as a director, producer or actor in the video.

In state court Monday, Google's attorneys contended that the rights of an actor do not protect that person from how a film is perceived. In her lawsuit, Garcia asserts that Google is infringing on the copyright she holds to her performance in the film by distributing the video without her approval via YouTube. A media representative from Google did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Efforts to reach Nakoula were unsuccessful.

The release of the trailer and violent backlash that ensued prompted 79 cast and crew members to release a statement saying they were "extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the producer." The statement added, "We were hocked by the drastic rewrites of the script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened by the tragedies that have occurred."

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