More Sony Hack Fallout: Google Fights Mississippi and the MPAA

Google Offices - H 2014
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File

On Friday, Google filed papers in Mississippi federal court demanding that Jim Hood, the state attorney general, be restrained from an investigation that targets how the web giant facilitates the distribution of infringing content and goods.

The motion for a preliminary injunction (read below) would be noteworthy even if there wasn't any connection to what's been happening to Sony Pictures. But Google's legal action becomes even more remarkable given the context that its court papers have been informed by stolen documents from Sony headquarters. In today's filing, Google seizes upon news reports about "Project Goliath," an apparent campaign by the MPAA to work with state attorneys general in getting tough on Google and tells a judge how lawyers for the movie industry wrote a Hood letter to Google and had advance knowledge of subpoenas being sought.

What's clear from all this is that the Sony hackers haven't just leaked salacious executive emails — triggering Aaron Sorkin's ire — nor mere sensitive employee data (a breach that has triggered four class action lawsuits to date), but also documents of a politically sensitive nature. The kind of public-interest material found on the front page of The New York Times and the type of fodder leading one ardent longtime critic of the entertainment industry's copyright policies to look at the aggressive lobbying and see "straight-up bribery."

While the MPAA is now speaking up in defense of the investigation, saying it is "legitimate and important," Google is clearly pissed, blogging about how the "MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA's goals through nonlegislative means."

Two months ago, it appeared as though Google and Hollywood were primed for better relations after the web giant adjusted its algorithms to push down sites flagged for a great amount of piracy in its search results. Today, after hackers have exposed some of the backstage politicking behind site blocking, all bets are off.

Google argues that Hood's efforts violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — which provides some immunity for ISPs on third-party content — as well as the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. It is also preempted by federal copyright law. The web giant agrees that "much of the third-party content … is objectionable" but is clearly disputing one state's authority to do much about it.

According to Google's memorandum, "[I]f a state Attorney General can punish, irrespective of well-established federal law, any search engine or video-sharing platform whenever he finds third-party content he deems objectionable, search engines and video-sharing platforms cannot operate in their current form. They would instead have to pre-screen the trillions of websites and millions of videos on the Internet, blocking anything they had not yet reviewed from being publicly accessible so as to avoid the ire of even a single state or local regulator."

The MPAA said it had no comment about Google's filing but gave us this statement about Google's blog post: "Google's effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful. Freedom of speech should never be used as a shield for unlawful activities, and the Internet is not a license to steal. … We will seek the assistance of any and all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, to protect the rights of all involved in creative activities."

Twitter: @eriqgardner