Court won't order Google to block anti-Islam film

Jerusalem District Court rejects MK Taleb a-Sanaa's petition to block YouTube access to film, says Israelis could find it elsewhere.

October 15, 2012 21:19
3 minute read.
Google office in Tel Aviv

Google office in Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)


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Google and YouTube do not have to block access in Israel to the anti-Muslim video the Innocence of Muslims, the Jerusalem District Court ruled on Monday.

MK Taleb a-Sanaa (United Arab List-Ta’al) and others had filed a petition to block the film that offensively portrays the prophet Muhammad.

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The petitioners on September 20 sought an initial ruling temporarily blocking access to the video, but the court then only postponed the issue until Monday’s hearing.

Judge Miriam Mizrahi rejected the petition on Monday on several grounds. Procedurally, Mizrahi noted that Google and YouTube are separate entities, and the fact that the petitioners did not name YouTube in the petition was legally fatal to the petition.

The petitioners argued that the difference between the them is essentially a legal fiction because Google owns YouTube and has forced YouTube to remove the video in a number of countries, but the court disagreed.

Just because Google and YouTube might have blocked access in certain countries, does not mean that they have to in Israel and that the legal relationships or applicable laws are the same in each country, Mizrahi said.

In any event, the law does not permit ignoring the difference between the two legal entities, the court said, noting that the petitioners were put on notice about this issue in September and did nothing to add YouTube to the lawsuit during the time that passed.

The court also said that it was not inclined to order YouTube to block access since Israelis could just find the video on other websites.

Mizrahi said that courts do not issue orders that will have no real affect.

Notably, the court struck down the petition on technical grounds, rather than on the merits of the legal arguments.

This means the petitioners could refile their case, naming YouTube as a defendant, in the future.

However, the court’s reference to what it might have done even if YouTube had been named as a defendant may give the petitioners pause.

The court, however, did not discuss any arguments about the balance and fight between the competing values of free speech of the individual and the injured feelings of a community, which does have some defense under Israeli law. It also did not discuss Google’s objections to the mixing of civil and criminal law and the impossibility of suing someone for defamation on behalf of someone who died centuries ago. The court did not address the petitioners’ claims of the film’s incitement to racism, either.

The court did endorse Google’s argument in September that viewers had to take action to see the offensive video, unlike a billboard or other publication in the public sphere.

“Someone who doesn’t look for the video won’t find it, so the public that could be offended by the video can avoid watching the clip for now,” Mizrahi said at the September hearing.

Also at the September hearing, Sanaa frequently compared the Innocence of Muslims trailer to a movie making fun of the Holocaust, claiming that the courts would be quick to force YouTube and Google to take down any movie deemed offensive to Jews.

After the court’s September ruling, Sanaa said, “They are forcing people to go out and have violent demonstrations.

Freedom of expression is not expression without limits, and it is not that whoever doesn’t want to hear it won’t pay attention. The fact is that people were actively hurt by this. It can’t be that because [the courts] are not Muslim [they] won’t worry about the feelings of Muslims.”

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