In a second major case decided today, the 9th Circuit held that there is no independent copyright held by a performer in a motion picture (film, TV, etc.) work.
As reported by Law360, in an en banc decision the full Ninth Circuit on Monday overturned a highly-controversial panel decision that forced Google Inc. to pull an anti-Islam video from YouTube, calling it a ‘dubious’ copyright ruling that gave short shrift to the First Amendment.
The appeals court’s reversal came in the closely-watched case of Cindy Lee Garcia, an actress who sued Google after receiving death threats based on her role in the incendiary “Innocence of Muslims” — the same film that allegedly sparked riots in the Middle East in 2012.
“[Plaintiff’s] theory … 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 without satisfying the requirements of the Copyright Act,” the court wrote. “Putting aside the rhetoric of Hollywood hijinks and the dissent’s dramatics, this case must be decided on the law.”
This is a good day for copyright law. A decision the other way would have sent Hollywood into disarray and turned the film industry on its head, creating a new threat that countless actors could hold copyright owners hostage for vast sums of unpaid royalties. This case is also important for video game developers who have hired actors as part of the creation process.
Despite the negative impact the opposite decision could have had, that’s not WHY this is a good decision. Rather, a movie, television show, video game, or any other audiovisual work is ultimately the vision a single person (e.g., the director) or entity (e.g., the video game developer or publisher). Allowing actors a copyright right in their individual performances would, by implication, mean that the director does not actually have ultimate control to decide what is and is not included within a film or video game. But that’s the not the reality. The reality is that the director, if she doesn’t like the actor’s performance, requires the actor to reshoot the scene until the actor’s performance is what the director wants the performance to be. Today’s case reaffirms that principle.