Google Hits Back, Sues Mississippi for ‘Unjustified Attack’

The Internet giant is fighting a campaign it believes is orchestrated by the movie industry.

A sign is posted on the exterior of Google headquarters on January 30, 2014 in Mountain View, California.  
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
Dec. 19, 2014, 8:34 a.m.

After months on the de­fens­ive over al­leg­a­tions that it fa­cil­it­ated ac­cess to il­leg­al products, Google is now go­ing on of­fense.

The In­ter­net gi­ant sued Mis­sis­sippi At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Jim Hood on Fri­day to block a sub­poena it claims would vi­ol­ate its con­sti­tu­tion­al rights. Kent Walk­er, Google’s gen­er­al coun­sel, said the sub­poena “con­sti­tutes an un­jus­ti­fied at­tack that vi­ol­ates well-es­tab­lished U.S. laws.”

Google also cre­ated a webpage to rally its mil­lions of users to com­bat a “secret cam­paign” by the movie in­dustry to “bring back web cen­sor­ship.”

The com­pany is launch­ing its at­tacks after emails leaked from the Sony hack re­vealed that movie-in­dustry lob­by­ists have been work­ing closely with state of­fi­cials to crack down on Google.

Hol­ly­wood’s goal, ac­cord­ing to re­ports from The New York Times and The Verge, is to force Google to cut off ac­cess to sites that of­fer pir­ated cop­ies of movies. The in­dustry has long ar­gued that rampant on­line pir­acy hurts film­makers and des­troys U.S. jobs.

In Oc­to­ber, the Mis­sis­sippi at­tor­ney gen­er­al is­sued a 79-page sub­poena de­mand­ing that Google turn over doc­u­ments re­lated to ad­vert­ise­ments and search res­ults for il­leg­al products, such as drugs and pir­ated movies. Hood’s in­vest­ig­a­tion has been closely co­ordin­ated with Hol­ly­wood lob­by­ists, ac­cord­ing to the leaked emails.

In re­sponse to Google’s leg­al ac­tion, Hood said he is call­ing a “time out” and will reach out to Google’s law­yers to “ne­go­ti­ate a peace­ful res­ol­u­tion.” But he also de­fen­ded his de­cision to tar­get Google, which he said is “rak­ing in ad­vert­ising dol­lars off of drug deal­ers.”

“Now, feel­ing em­boldened with its bil­lions of dol­lars, me­dia prowess and polit­ic­al power, some of its more ex­cit­able people have sued try­ing to stop the State of Mis­sis­sippi for dar­ing to ask some ques­tions,” he said. “We ex­pect more from one of the wealth­i­est cor­por­a­tions in the world.”

In its law­suit Fri­day, Google claimed Hood’s sub­poena would be “enorm­ously bur­den­some” and that fed­er­al law pro­tects its right to host third-party con­tent, even if the con­tent is il­leg­al.

“The At­tor­ney Gen­er­al may prefer a pre-filtered In­ter­net—but the Con­sti­tu­tion and Con­gress have denied him the au­thor­ity to man­date it,” the com­pany wrote.

Google also sent no­tices to the Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­ation of Amer­ica and its law firm, Jen­ner and Block, de­mand­ing that they pre­serve doc­u­ments re­lated to their lob­by­ing cam­paign.

The leg­al sal­vos fol­low a blog post from Google on Thursday, which ac­cused the MPAA of “try­ing to secretly cen­sor the In­ter­net.”

Kate Be­ding­field, a spokes­wo­man for the MPAA, called the blog post “shame­ful,” and ar­gued that the com­pany is just try­ing to de­flect at­ten­tion away from its role in “en­abling and fa­cil­it­at­ing il­leg­al con­duct.”

The movie in­dustry will con­tin­ue to “seek the as­sist­ance of any and all gov­ern­ment agen­cies, wheth­er fed­er­al, state or loc­al, to pro­tect the rights of all in­volved in cre­at­ive activ­it­ies,” she said.

—This art­icle has been up­dated with a re­sponse from the Mis­sis­sippi at­tor­ney gen­er­al. 

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