Garcia v. Google

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Procedure
  • Date Filed: 05-18-2015
  • Case #: 12-57302
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge McKeown for the Court; Chief Judge Thomas and Circuit Judges Kozinski, Berzon, Rawlinson, Clifton, Callahan, Smith, Murguia, Christen and Watford; Concurrence by Watford; Dissent by Kozinski
  • Full Text Opinion

A plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction should be granted when: (1) the plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) the plaintiff is likely to suffer irreparable harm without the preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities favors the plaintiff; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest.

Cindy Lee Garcia was cast for a role she believed was in a film called Desert Warrior. However, the director, Mark Basseley Youssef, created a different film, Innocence of Muslims. Garcia’s five-second scene was included, however her lines were dubbed over depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a pedophile. The film was uploaded to YouTube, owned by Google Inc. (“Google”), and incited outrage across the Middle East. The film also exhibited a political controversy over its alleged connection with the 2012 Benghazi attack. Garcia claimed that due to the film, she received death threats, had emotional distress, and her reputation was harmed. Garcia filed suit in federal court claiming copyright infringement of her scene, and moved for a preliminary injunction to bar Google from hosting the film on YouTube. The district court denied the request, however, on appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed the order and granted Garcia’s preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit granted rehearing en banc, and found that the district court did not abuse its discretion since Garcia was unable to satisfy the four factor test for preliminary injunction as outlined in Winter v. NRDC. Specifically, Garcia failed to prove she was likely to succeed on the merits (threshold factor), and that irreparable harm was likely without injunction. The Court reasoned that Garcia’s five-second scene did not qualify as a copyrightable work, nor was she the author of the work, and thus her claim was not likely to succeed. Furthermore, Garcia’s damages did not represent irreparable harm in the context of copyright infringement. The Court therefore did not consider the remaining factors. Lastly, the Court concluded that denial of the injunction was correct because otherwise the injunction would essentially be censoring and suppressing a political film, thus infringing on First Amendment rights. AFFIRMED.

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