Google Sues to Block Mississippi Attorney General’s Probe, Alleging Ties to MPAA

AG Jim Hood says he is temporarily suspending inquiry of Internet giant

Google filed a motion Friday in federal district court to block a subpoena by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, alleging that he is motivated by the MPAA’s anti-piracy agenda in pursuing a criminal investigation into the company.

Hood’s 79-page subpoena “constitutes an unjustified attack that violates well-established U.S. laws governing Internet platforms and online intermediaries,” Google senior VP and general counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post.

[UPDATE, Dec. 20, 7 a.m. PT: Hood said he was calling a temporary halt to his inquiry, in a statement to the New York Times: “In an attempt to resolve some of the problems the states’ chief law enforcement officers have raised, I am calling a time out, so that cooler heads may prevail,” he said.]

The Oct. 21 subpoena from the Mississippi attorney general claimed that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that Google is violating the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act in a number of ways. The complaint demands Google turn over records related to ads, search results and internal policies for illegal drugs, child pornography, pirated content, fake IDs and stolen credit card numbers, among other things.

Google, in its motion, alleged that Hood “took these actions following a sustained lobbying effort from the Motion Picture Association of America.”

In a statement Friday, Hood said Google produced more than 99,000 “jumbled, unsearchable documents in a data dump” in response to his subpoena.

“I agreed to give Google additional time to comply with our request and hoped we could reach an agreement,” Hood said. “Instead, after the Sony hack, Google’s general counsel Kent Walker began blogging and feeding the media a salacious Hollywood tale. 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. We expect more from one of the wealthiest corporations in the world.”

Google’s motion comes after the Internet giant Thursday said it was “deeply concerned” about the MPAA’s secret campaign to “censor” the Web by non-legislative means, citing documents that have surfaced in the hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. The Hollywood trade group has lobbied Hood and other state attorneys general to pursue the issue of forcing ISPs to block access to piracy sites. MPAA responded that Google’s “effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful” and that “freedom of speech should never be used as a shield for unlawful activities.”

Hood has challenged Google on a range of issues for more than two years. In December 2013, for example, he urged the Internet company to take greater measures to address piracy and other illegal activity in a letter to Walker, arguing that the company’s “inaction” is “not merely a failure to do the right thing” but “raises serious questions as to whether Google is engaged in unlawful conduct itself.”

Google is seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction on Hood’s subpoena. The company filed the complaint Dec. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. The case is docket no. 3:14cv981HTW-LRA.

“We regret having to take this matter to court, and we are doing so only after years of efforts to explain both the merits of our position and the extensive steps we’ve taken on our platforms,” Kent said.

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