Copyright protection is rooted in the Intellectual Property Clause of the United States Constitution, which sets boundaries for the subject matter that can be protected by federal copyright law. The Ninth Circuit’s 2014 decision in Garcia v. Google, Inc., marked the first time a court ruled that an individual actor with a minor role in a film has a copyright interest in her own performance.
In Garcia v. Google, Inc., the Ninth Circuit originally held that the actor likely had a copyright interest in the film because she was “duped into providing an artistic performance that was used in a way she never could have foreseen.” The court reasoned that Garcia established she was likely to succeed on her copyright claim due to the serious threats against her life, and the balance of the equities and public interest that were in her favor. The Ninth Circuit applied the standard for a mandatory preliminary injunction and found that Garcia, as an actor, had a copyright interest in the film because she evinced a minimal degree of creativity in her performance.
The court should have only ruled that the district court abused its discretion by failing to grant Garcia’s copyright interest, if the facts and law clearly favored issuing a preliminary injunction. The court assumed Garcia was an author and created its own law to provide her — as an actor — a copyright interest in a film. Nothing about Garcia’s performance or what she demonstrated provide that the facts and the law “clearly favor her claim of a copyrightable interest” in her acting performance. The court demanded YouTube remove the film, a request that was subjected to the incorrect degree of scrutiny. The court should have applied a higher degree of scrutiny and reversed the district court’s decision only if the decision was illogical or implausible. Garcia did not clearly satisfy the requirements to claim copyright infringement, thus the district court’s decision was not illogical or implausible, and the district court did not abuse its discretion.
Part I of this Note presents a background of the factual history of the case and the relevant history of copyright law. Part II focuses on the procedural history of Garcia v. Google, Inc., focusing on the Ninth Circuit’s misapplication of copyright law and the en banc court’s restoration of copyright law’s intention. Part III presents possible remedies that Garcia may have had outside of an action asserted under copyright law. The Note concludes by emphasizing that the expansion of technology could have substantial implications for copyright interests, and that such expansion may force the United States to adopt more specific laws going forward.
Garcia v. Google, Inc.: The Ninth Circuit’s Refusal to Extend Copyright Protection to an Actor’s Performance, Reinforcing the Letter of Copyright Law, 46 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 49