An actress in an anti-Islam film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world sued a California man linked to its production on Wednesday for fraud and slander, saying she had received death threats after the video was posted on YouTube.
Actress Cindy Lee Garcia, who also named Google Inc and its YouTube unit as defendants, asked that the film be removed from YouTube and said her right to privacy had been violated and her life endangered, among other allegations.
It was the first known civil lawsuit connected to the making of the video, which depicts the Prophet Mohammad as a womanizer and a fool, and helped generate a torrent of violence across the Muslim world last week.
The violence included an attack on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi in which the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed. U.S. and other foreign embassies were also stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.
Garcia accused a producer of the movie, whom she identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula and said he used the alias Sam Bacile, of duping her into appearing in a "hateful" film that she had been led to believe was a simple desert adventure movie.
"There was no mention of 'Mohammed' during filming or on set. There were no references made to religion nor was there any sexual content of which Ms. Garcia was aware," said the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
For many Muslims, any depiction of the prophet is blasphemous. Caricatures deemed insulting in the past have provoked protests and drawn condemnation from officials, preachers, ordinary Muslims and many Christians.
"This lawsuit is not an attack on the First Amendment nor on the right for Americans to say what they think, but does request that the offending content be removed from the Internet," the lawsuit said.
A representative for Nakoula's criminal attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit. A Google spokesman said the company was reviewing the complaint and "will be in court tomorrow."
Garcia, who had a relatively small part in a trailer available online, has said that her character was forced to give away her child to a character named "Master George" in one scene. An expired casting call available online describes a character named George as a "strong leader" and a "tyrant."
But in the English-language trailer at YouTube, Garcia's character appears to be dubbed over in that scene, with a voice-over for her character referring to Mohammad instead of George.
Garcia's lawsuit said her voice was also "dubbed into Arabic" in another version of the trailer.
She said the film, which has circulated online as a 13-minute trailer, had prompted her family to refuse to allow her to see or babysit her grandchildren, fearing for their safety.
The suit accuses Nakoula, Google and YouTube of invasion of privacy, unfair business practices, the use of Garcia's likeness without permission and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
U.S. officials have said authorities were not investigating the film project itself and that even if it was inflammatory or led to violence, simply producing it cannot be considered a crime in the United States, which has strong free speech laws.
But Nakoula, a Coptic Christian California man who pleaded guilty to bank fraud in 2010, was interviewed by federal probation officers on Saturday probing whether he violated the terms of his release while making the film.
Nakoula, who was released from prison in 2011, is prohibited from accessing the Web or assuming aliases without the approval of his probation officer, court records show. Violations could result in him being sent back to prison.
Nakoula, 55, did not return to his house in the Los Angeles suburb of Cerritos following his interview with federal probation officers, and his whereabouts are unknown. Last week, he denied involvement in the film in a phone call to his Coptic bishop in Los Angeles.
(Additional reporting by Gerry Shih; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson)