rid-of-revengeA year and a half after “The Innocence of Muslims” led to violent protests in Pakistan, Egypt, and other countries that killed more than 50 people, a federal appeals court has ordered Google to remove the video from YouTube, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The deadly outrage has nothing to do with why the court ordered the video’s removal. Instead, it based its ruling on copyright law because the lead actress never consented to starring in a movie that would denigrate Islam.

Here’s the reasoning: When actress Cindy Lee Garcia answered a casting call for an adventure film called “Desert Warrior” she had no idea it would be warped into a piece of blatant anti-Muslim propaganda in “post-production” (if you can even call it that for a movie this low-budget). Garcia says the director dubbed her voice to make it look like she made an anti-Muslim comment, leading to death threats.

“The film differs so radically from anything Garcia could have imagined when she was cast that it can’t possibly be authorized by any implied license she granted,” writes Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In other words, the court found that the filmmaker violated Garcia’s copyright to her “performance.”

Could the same principle be applied to “revenge porn,” the sick, skeezy practice of posting nude photos of an ex-lover to the Internet without that person’s knowledge or consent?

That’s what University of Miami Law Professor Mary Anne Franks hopes. She’s helping Congress draft anti-revenge porn legislation. “Hopefully we would develop a similar take-down notice regime that we see in a copyright context,” she told US News.

Claims of copyright can already be used to have a photo taken down under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act as long as the victim is the same person who took it. According to the Atlantic, over 80 percent of revenge porn photos are “selfies.” But what about the other 20 percent? Can a person claim copyright infringement if they aren’t the “author” of the photo or video?

According to the “Innocence of Muslims” ruling, yes.

While what happened to Garcia — and to revenge porn victims every day — is undeniably awful and unfair, some claim that such a law could have a chilling effect on free speech. “The 1st Amendment implications of this ruling are horrible,” Santa Clara University law professor Eric Goldman told the LA Times. It could potentially allow anyone who appears in a video without their consent to force Google to take it off YouTube. What about a video where troops shoot at civilian protesters? Could one of the perpetrators have the video removed from YouTube using this ruling as precedent?

As Cale Weissman wrote last week, there are no easy answers when it comes to legislating revenge porn. On one hand, critics say the collateral damage broad federal laws will inflict on free speech is potentially enormous. Furthermore, Wired’s Sarah Jeong points out that many statutes are already in place to help protect victims.

On the other hand, Mary Anne Franks doesn’t think these are adequate, and as for the “free speech” argument, Amanda Marcotte notes at TPM, “(Men) can yell and scream all they want about their hateful, gold-digging ex-girlfriends, even without naked pictures from happier times as an illustration.” 

Instead of thinking about “revenge porn” in terms of licensing and speech and copyright, we should call it what it is: Harassment. To echo Jeong, it’s too bad we haven’t used this opportunity to strengthen anti-harassment laws. “Revenge porn” is but one way men attack women’s appearance on the web, and a law that addresses these behaviors head-on would be preferable to trying to retrofit copyright law. Because if copyright law can be used to stop something as unrelated as “revenge porn,” what else could it stop?

[image via comicbookplus]