Google Wants the MPAA's "Project Goliath" Documents

Google Logo NEW - H 2012

Google Logo NEW - H 2012

Call it World War G.

This week, Google filed motions in both the District of Columbia and New York in an attempt to force the Motion Picture Association of America, its members, its law firm and a public advocacy group it has funded to turn over communications with state attorney offices throughout the U.S. as well as documents relating to campaign contributions.

To some extent, the move is a procedural one amid Google's battle with Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood, whose own 79-page subpoena last year led the web giant to assert that its First Amendment rights and immunity from third-party content were under threat. Google got a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against Hood, but the litigation continues.

Big picture-wise, Google's efforts to see how the entertainment industry is working political channels arguably represents the most significant fallout from a hack at Sony Pictures. A motion to compel filed on Monday against Twenty-First Century Fox, NBCUniversal Media and Viacom (read below) hardly mentions the hack itself, but does refer extensively to press reports that came in the aftermath of the hack. In particular, Google cites stories referring to "Project Goliath," which was the Hollywood studios' code name for an effort to prod state attorneys general into getting tough on Google over practices related to content theft. Google wants to know more about the lobbying.

The MPAA defends Hood's efforts.

"This is just the latest effort by Google to distract attention from legitimate questions about whether it is profiting from illegal activity online, including fake pharmaceuticals, fraudulent documents, stolen intellectual property and more," says Kate Bedingfield, a spokesperson at the MPAA. "Google is not above the law. Attorney General Hood should be allowed to investigate whether Google’s actions violate state consumer protection laws."

Google doesn't think much of the investigation and has a good idea of what some of the documents will show. For example, Hollywood lobbyists formed a working group that drafted demand letters that Hood sent to Google.

Google dismisses the other side's contention that many of the documents should be shielded as irrelevant or privileged. In doing this, Google aims to shine light on lobbying activity and is justifying its document hunt by raising the issue of a law enforcement official's motivations.

"One of the principal issues in Google's case against Attorney General Hood is the question of what motivated him to send Google the oppressive CID [civil investigative demand]," states the Google motion.

"Based on just the handful of documents that have come to light through press accounts, there is little doubt that the Subpoenaed Parties and their lobbyists at the MPAA and Jenner actually directed the Attorney General's misconduct at issue in this case," Google continues.

Of course, Google has its own lobbying force, and has worked in the past with individuals like U.S. presidential contender Ted Cruz to lobby a state AG. This particular dispute might not invite courtroom arguments of equivalency, but as World War G proceeds, there could be pushes to peel back Google's own efforts to influence those in power.

For now, in the same week that Google is opposing a shareholder resolution to be more transparent on its own lobbying, Google is making the point in its motion papers that "lobbying is a matter of public record" and that "the notion that lobbying activities can be cloaked in privilege is untenable."