Google in tussle with state attorney general after Sony leaks

Google accuses Mississippi official of working with the movie industry to attack it

The recent data breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment has prompted a war of words between Google and the U.S movie industry, with the Internet giant accusing a state attorney general of collaborating with movie studios in a copyright enforcement campaign against it.

The dispute has spilled over into the U.S. court system. On Monday, Judge Henry Wingate of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi gave Google an additional two months to respond to a 79-page subpoena filed in October by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, according to an Associated Press report. Hood had originally given Google until Jan. 5 to respond.

Google on Friday asked the court to throw out the subpoena, days after the company accused Hood of using Motion Picture Association of America lawyers to draft a letter accusing Google of profiting from online piracy and illegal drug sales.

The movie studios have long accused Google of not doing enough to stop online distribution of pirated films. But the latest tiff started after emails released by Sony hackers showed the MPAA, Sony and five other large movie studios working together to attack a company code-named Goliath, widely believed to be Google.

The multi-year campaign by the studios would "rebut Goliath's public advocacy" and "amplify negative Goliath news," the Verge reported in mid-December. The campaign included an effort to work with state attorneys general and major ISPs to control the flow of data online, the Verge reported.

News reports about the MPAA's Goliath campaign prompted Google general counsel Kent Walker, in a blog post last Thursday, to accuse the MPAA and Hood of trying to revive the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA], the antipiracy bill killed in the U.S. Congress in early 2012 after massive online protests.

In the Friday filing asking the Mississippi court to kill Hood's subpoena, Google's lawyers argue that Hood's investigation of Google is trumped by federal laws, including legal protections in the Communications Decency Act for Web-based services that publish third-party content.

"For the last 18 months, the Mississippi attorney general has threatened to prosecute, sue or investigate Google unless it agrees to block from its search engine, YouTube video-sharing site, and advertising systems third-party content ... that the attorney general deems objectionable," Google's lawyers wrote. "When Google did not agree to his demands, the attorney general retaliated, issuing an enormously burdensome subpoena and asserting he now has 'reasonable grounds to believe' that Google has engaged in 'deceptive' or 'unfair' trade practice."

A spokeswoman for Hood didn't respond to a request for comment on the Google court filing, but Hood on Friday reportedly called for a "time out" in his dispute with Google.

The MPAA, however, has not backed down. "Google's effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful," MPAA spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said by email. "Freedom of speech should never be used as a shield for unlawful activities and the internet is not a license to steal."

Google's blog post last week was a "transparent attempt to deflect focus from its own conduct and to shift attention from legitimate and important ongoing investigations by state attorneys general into the role of Google search in enabling and facilitating illegal conduct," she added.

Bedingfield, responding to the accusations that MPAA lawyers have assisted Hood's investigation, pointed to a Public Citizen blog post defending the practice of state attorneys general getting assistance from outside lawyers.

"Hiring outside counsel to do consumer protection work that many AG offices are understaffed to handle expands the enforcement power of those offices," wrote Scott Michelman of Public Citizen's Litigation Group. "The state can better enforce its laws, protect its citizens, and potentially reap financial benefits by recovering money it wouldn't have otherwise."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags copyrightinternetGooglelegalsearch enginesintellectual propertyMotion Picture Association of AmericaSony Pictures Entertainmentkent walkerPublic CitizenKate BedingfieldJim HoodHenry WingateScott MichelmanU.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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