Case Name: Garcia v. Google
Citation: 786 F.3d 733 (9th Cir. 2015)
Topics: BlasphemyContractsCopyright; Modification of Artists’ Works

Unbeknownst to actress Cindy Lee Garcia, her five-second performance was transformed and incorporated into an anti-Islamic video uploaded onto YouTube. After news outlets connected this footage to violent protests in the Middle East, Garcia received death threats. She sued YouTube’s owner Google, claiming she holds the copyright to her performance.

The court ruled that she did not own the copyright, reasoning that if one were able to cherry-pick copyrightable elements in a film, it would “enable any contributor from a costume designer down to an extra or best boy to claim copyright in random bits and pieces of a unitary motion picture” — Almost anyone involved in the film production would qualify as an “author,” splitting the film into many different “works” (usually future use rights would be covered under a work made for hire agreement). Under the Copyright Act, original works must be fixed in a medium by the author, who is not Garcia in this case because she neither assembled the final film together nor wrote the script. Garcia also could not establish preventing harm as a justification for taking down the video, as it had already been up for five months.

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