On June 15, 2012, District Court Judge James V. Selna, sitting in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California (Santa Ana), ruled in favor of the California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Inc. (CBR), a pro-life organization, and its executive director Gregg Cunningham and several other pro-lifers who were sued for copyright infringement by Northland Family Planning Clinic, a Michigan-based abortion provider. CBR and the other pro-life defendants were represented by American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) Co-Founders and Senior Counsel Robert Muise and David Yerushalmi. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the abortion clinic by Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, the largest intellectual property law firm in the United States.
CBR executive director Gregg Cunningham expressed gratitude for the favorable ruling and the work of Muise and Yerushalmi, stating, “The Northland abortion clinic and its army of high-priced lawyers were no match for our tag-team from the American Freedom Law Center. We are thankful that we have these guys on our side fighting for life and allowing us to continue our work of exposing the lies of abortion.”
In 2011, Northland sued CBR and the other pro-lifers because they used portions of a Northland video to create their own pro-life video. The CBR video parodies and criticizes the Northland video, which claims throughout that abortion is “good” and that its abortion business is “sacred work.” The federal judge ruled that CBR’s use of the Northland video was “fair use” and thus not a copyright violation as a matter of law.
AFLC Senior Counsel Robert Muise commented, “This is an important ruling. It sends a clear message to other abortionists and their complicit lawyers that this tactic of trying to silence the pro-life message through vexatious litigation will not work. CBR’s video effectively exposes the lies and deception of the Northland video, and it will continue to do so thanks to this ruling.”
The federal judge ruled that CBR, through its executive director, Gregg Cunningham, made “fair use” of portions of the Northland video that the abortion clinic claimed was copyrighted material. As the court’s ruling illustrates, the “fair use” doctrine is a complete defense to a claim of copyright infringement, and it was created in large part to protect the right to freedom of speech. Through the CBR video, Cunningham transformed the Northland video by adding graphic images of aborted fetuses to critical parts of the video, a jarring music score, a scripture citation to 2 Corinthians 11:13-14, which warns viewers that Satan masquerades as “an angel of light,” and an introduction quoting George Orwell, which condemns the use of lies to obscure murder, so as to criticize and parody the pro-abortion message conveyed by the Northland video.
CBR’s video powerfully exposes the lies expressed in the Northland video. CBR’s video parodies and mocks both the deceptive message and the deceptive manner of Northland’s staffer who narrates the pro-abortion video. Northland’s consistent theme is the lie that abortion is “normal” and “good.” At one point in the video, Northland describes its abortion business as “sacred work.” Every aspect of the Northland staffer’s attire, demeanor, syntax, and intonation is calculated to reinforce this deception. The same is true with the flowers on her desk, the soft background music, and the framed art on her walls. CBR’s video rebuts all this duplicity with an accusatory literary quote in its introduction, jarring music in its score, and graphic imagery in its stark video refutation.
According to Judge Selna's opinion, “[CBR] turn[s] the Northland Video’s message ‘on its head’ by alternating clips of the calm, empathetic doctor explaining that choosing to have an abortion does not make you a bad woman, with shockingly graphic images of fetuses being dismembered and removed from the birth canal. For example, in the beginning of the [CBR] Videos, a clip from the Northland Video plays in which the narrator says, ‘deciding to have an abortion is a normal decision’; then, the screen cuts to a video clip in which it appears that a fetal hand reaches out of the birth canal and gloved fingers–ostensibly those of a doctor–expose more of the hand before using forceps to rip off the appendage. Of course, [CBR’s] abundantly clear message is that deciding to have an abortion is anything but a ‘normal decision’ . . . .”
AFLC Senior Counsel David Yerushalmi concluded, “This case is yet another example of abortionists trying to hide the stark reality that they are engaged in the business of killing human life for profit. CBR’s video effectively and metaphorically forces open the door to the abortion clinic and allows the viewer to decide whether they are going to believe what they hear or what they see – with their own eyes. Abortionists can spin the facts, but the camera records the truth.”