SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court panel should not have forced YouTube to take down an anti-Muslim film that sparked violence in the Middle East and death threats to actors, a larger group of judges ruled Monday in a victory for free speech advocates.

The 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal sided with Google, which owns YouTube, saying the previous decision by a three-member panel of the same court gave “short shrift” to the First Amendment and constituted prior restraint – a prohibition on free speech before it takes place.

“The mandatory injunction censored and suppressed a politically significant film – based upon a dubious and unprecedented theory of copyright,” Judge M. Margaret McKeown wrote in an opinion joined by nine other judges. “In so doing, the panel deprived the public of the ability to view firsthand, and judge for themselves, a film at the center of an international uproar.”

In a statement, YouTube said it has long believed the previous ruling was a misapplication of copyright law. It did not say whether the movie would go back up.

Actress Cindy Lee Garcia sought the injunction to have “Innocence of Muslims” removed from the website after receiving death threats. Her lawyer argued that she believed she was acting in a different production and had a copyright claim to the low-budget film.

Google countered that Garcia had no claim to the film because the filmmaker wrote the dialogue, managed the production and dubbed over her lines.

Garcia was paid $500 to appear in a movie called “Desert Warrior” that she believed had nothing to do with religion. But she ended up in a five-second scene in which her voice was dubbed over and her character asked if Muhammad was a child molester.

Garcia will likely not appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in part because of financial considerations, the statement said.


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