Google claims in a new court filing that staffers of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood proposed a coordinated anti-Google campaign involving major media conglomerates, including segments on “Today” and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, to pressure the company in advance of issuing a subpoena over its search practices.
In a New York federal court, Google is seeking documents from 21st Century Fox, NBCUniversal and Viacom relating to political contributions given to Hood. That action is related to pending litigation against Hood in Mississippi, where Google claims that Hood was unduly influenced by the studios to launch an investigation of their search practices.
In Google’s latest filing, the company includes an email from one of Hood’s staffers to Brian Cohen, director of external state government affairs for the MPAA.
The staffer, Meredith Aldridge, attaches a proposed plan that Google says “provides for extensive support” from Fox, NBCU and Viacom “aimed at pressuring Google to censor speech.”
The proposals include placement of an editorial in the Wall Street Journal “emphasizing that Google’s stock will lose value in the face of a sustained attack by the AGs”; a suggestion that the MPAA, Comcast and News Corp. lobbyists work with a PR firm “to create an attack on Google,” with an NBCU government relations executive helping to land a segment on the “Today” show; and a suggestion that the PR firm identify a lawyer specializing in SEC matters to work with a stockholder and to identify the appropriate regulatory filing to be made against Google.
The “final step” in the proposals refers to having attorneys general issue investigative demands to Google “if necessary.”
The plan for the media segments never materialized.
The outline was prepared in advance of a meeting of the National Assn. of Attorneys General summer meeting in Boston in 2013. Aldridge attached the outline to the email to Cohen after he requested it. Cohen wrote that Hood had asked that he reach out to Aldridge and another staffer, Blake Bee, to get a copy. In her email, Aldridge requests that Cohen keep the plan confidential.
The outline also includes a proposal for an hourlong session at the Boston meeting focusing on the problem of online purchases of counterfeit goods, like prescription painkillers and assault weapons, as well as minors who download R-rated movies. The outline suggests that such firearm purchases violate federal gun laws. It calls for research into possible action against Google, including unfair trade practices.
A spokeswoman for Hood said, “Our pleadings speak for themselves as does the fact that 40 other state attorneys general support our office’s authority to conduct this investigation of Google.”
Hood’s investigation has been into whether Google’s search practices, including its autocomplete function, enables illegal activities.
In its filing, Google says Hood’s subpoena on Google was “not the foundation of a legitimate investigation — rather, it was a ‘final step’ that would be issued only ‘if necessary’ to further pressure Google to capitulate to the demands of AG Hood and his supporters.”
Google said that it obtained the email as part of the Mississippi litigation. The search giant contends that Fox, NBCU and Viacom are withholding documents that reflect “contributions to AG Hood’s cause and the quid pro quo they expected to receive.”
In March, U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate issued a preliminary injunction that bars Hood from enforcing his subpoena. Wingate wrote that there was a “substantial likelihood” that Google will prevail on its claim that Hood violated its First Amendment rights. The judge, however, has not made a final ruling on the merits of the case. Hood is appealing.
Google claims that Hood’s investigation was unduly influenced by lobbying efforts of the MPAA, the Digital Citizens Alliance and Jenner & Block, which formed an “AG Working Group” as they pursue measures to combat piracy.
Last month, 40 attorneys general, led by Jack Conway of Kentucky, Mark Brnovich of Arizona and James “Buddy” Caldwell of Louisiana, argued in a court filing that the preliminary injunction “would provide a roadmap for any potential wrongdoer subject to a legitimate state law enforcement investigation to attempt to thwart such an inquiry.”