Judge Refuses to Order YouTube to Remove Anti-Islam Video

Saturday, September 29, 2012, by Anu Madan

The controversial anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” has spawned violent protests and unrest spread throughout the Muslim world.  The fourteen-minute trailer, which depicts Muhammad as a womanizer, fool, and child molester, remains posted on YouTube, despite objections from White House administrators.  YouTube has refused to take down the video in the United States, stating that the trailer does not violate its Terms of Use.  The site did however remove the clip on its own volition in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Egypt, Indonesia, and India, as its content violates laws in those nations.

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled that YouTube does not have to remove the anti-Islam video.  Actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who appeared in the trailer, lost her legal suit to remove the clip from the popular video-sharing website.

According to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, “No provider . . . of an interactive computer service shall be shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”  As such, third party actors, like YouTube, are immune from liability for the content their users post.  Any policy that requires sites to monitor all postings, and remove objectionable content, would have a chilling effect on free speech on the Internet.  Accordingly, the court found that Garcia’s legal claims against YouTube, and its parent company Google, had little merit.

Even former President Bill Clinton weighed in on the issue.  Clinton addressed the recent turmoil in the Middle East, stating, “in order to preserve freedom, and liberty, including the freedom of religion, you have to allow people to say and do things that you find abhorrent.  And you can’t react every time you’re insulted.”  The First Amendment is deemed to be the cornerstone of this nation’s democracy.  Yet, despite this nation’s strong free speech laws, some types of speech are not afforded protection under the First Amendment.  The Supreme Court has carved out several limits to the freedom of speech right guaranteed in the First Amendment.  For example, words that would spur immediate violence and child pornography are not protected. 

Courts have the important task of striking a balance between the benefits of open and free speech, and the consequences of hateful and inflammatory dialogue that may spark violence.  In denying Garcia’s request to remove the controversial video from YouTube, the judicial system once again tipped the scale in favor of free speech.

Garcia also sued the producer of the trailer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, alleging fraud and slander.  In her complaint, Garcia accused Nakoula of tricking her into appearing in the trailer, which she was led to believe was an adventure film.  The complaint stated that the video was edited in a manner “to make it appear that Ms. Garcia voluntarily performed in a hateful anti-Islamic production.”  Even if a judge granted an injunction against the filmmakers to order them to remove the content, it would have little effect; after all, what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet.