Earlier today, a US federal appeals court ordered Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) to remove the controversial anti-Islamic film Innocence of Muslims from YouTube. That film – deemed to be blasphemous by Pakistani authorities – was the main reason YouTube was censored in Pakistan in September 2012.
The Ninth Circuit court’s verdict is based on a copyright claim, notes Reuters, rather than being due to the content of the contentious film. Cindy Lee Garcia, the plaintiff in the case and an actor in the amateur movie, says she was misled into believing the budget film would be about an ancient Middle Eastern adventure, and later her voice was partially dubbed over to create dialogue that denigrated the prophet Muhammad. As a result, she has faced death threats.
The federal ruling overturns a previous verdict that banning the film from YouTube would be a restraint of speech that violated the US constitution.
“No reason to block YouTube any more”
Whatever the reason for the film’s removal, young and tech-savvy Pakistanis are now calling for YouTube to be uncensored in the nation. Pakistan Today quotes Shahzad Ahmed from a Pakistani technology think-tank called Bytes as saying, “We think that now the government of Pakistan has been left with no excuse to continue blocking access to YouTube.” Ahmed added:
But the ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government’s desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing, and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition.
97 percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, which makes the schlock film a particularly sensitive topic in the nation. In late 2012, protests against the film erupted across Pakistan and several other nations, leaving at least 15 people killed in violent outbursts.
No freedom of speech
Not everyone is glad about the film’s deletion from YouTube. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that campaigns for free speech, today pronounced in a blog post that “copyright exceptionalism has won the day” against freedom of expression.
Pakistan itself is not a place where freedom of religion is practiced, and it’s among 60 nations where renouncing any form of religion might be punishable by a death sentence.
However, while the full Innocence of Muslims film has been removed from YouTube today, it’s never possible to entirely eradicate something from the internet. So it’s likely that clips of the US-made film will crop up on YouTube from time to time.
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(Editing by Josh Horwitz)