Actress Cindy Lee Garcia unknowingly played a role in the allegedly blasphemous InnoceCindy-Lee-Garcia_Innocence-of-Muslimsnce of Muslims trailer that appeared on You Tube in the Summer of 2012, sparking violent unrest in parts of the Islamic world. A five-second, two-line performance that Garcia gave for a film entitled Desert Warrior (“Is George crazy? Our daughter is but a child?”) found its way into the Innocence of Muslims trailer with a different question over-dubbed by another actress: “Is your Mohammed a child molester?” A fatwa issued against everyone involved in the trailer, and Garcia received numerous death threats.

Garcia sued to have You Tube take down the trailer. For reasons that are unclear to me, out of the many legal theories that may have been available to them, Garcia’s lawyers chose to proceed on the grounds that You Tube was infringing a copyright that their client held in her Desert Warrior cameo. Under Section 102(a) of the Copyright Act, a copyright “subsists in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”  Does Garcia’s five-second filmed performance meet this standard? Today the federal Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that it does not.  More about the spirited debate between the majority and the dissent after the jump.



A provocatively titled op-ed recently published by the New York Times, “Internet Pirates Will Always Win,” urges content providers to give up the legal fight against online copyright infringement as an exercise in futility, as new technologies make illegal downloading and streaming ever “harder to trace and to stop.”   The piece has prompted predictable responses from representatives of copyright industries, with arguments moral and economic.  May I add a little history, drawn from my book, Unfair to Genius, to the mix? (more…)


Under the Copyright Act “copyright protection subsists . . . in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression.”   This simple formulation is never more problematic than when applied to the highly collaborative, highly derivative, and oftentimes hugely expensive and risky art and craft of film.  Who is the author?  What counts as originality entitled to protection?  What is being expressed?  When does a filmmaker use ideas available to all and when does she infringe the protected expression of another? In his closely argued and engagingly written new book, Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet (Columbia University Press), Peter Decherney—a professor of cinema studies, communications, and English at the University of Pennsylvania—shows that solutions to these and other copyright conundrums have been excruciatingly slow in coming and often unsatisfactory when they have finally arrived, leaving the filmmaking industry (and filmmaking community writ large) to develop its own parallel regime of governance by contract, custom,  and compromise.

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