In what appears to be an appellate case of first impression, the Ninth Circuit has issued a remarkable decision in which the majority holds that an individual actor’s performance of a minor role in a motion picture is independently copyrightable, is not part of a work of joint authorship as embodied in the motion picture, and therefore the performance or distribution of the motion picture without the actor’s permission infringes the actor’s copyright, in the absence of a license.
This case involved the now-infamous Innocence of Muslims film, which offended a large segment of the Islamic community and led to riots and protests overseas. According to the facts as set forth in the decision, the Plaintiff, Cindy Lee Garcia, was hired by an amateur film-maker to play a minor role in what he described as an action film titled Desert Warrior. She was only given the four pages of the script in which her character appeared, and worked three and a half days on the set. That footage was eventually used in an anti-Islamic film titled Innocence of Muslims, in which at least some of Ms. Garcia’s lines were dubbed over so that she appeared to ask whether Mohammed was a child molester. When the film was aired on Egyptian television and uploaded onto YouTube, protests ensued and fatwas were issued, including one calling for the death of Ms. Garcia.
You might well ask what this all has to do with copyright law. The answer lies in the DMCA. [Read more…]