A top Google executive said the search giant is “deeply concerned” about a coordinated campaign by the MPAA and Hollywood studios to try to “censor” the Internet by blocking piracy websites through non-legislative tactics, citing emails stolen in the massive hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The MPAA struck back late Thursday, saying 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.”
In a blog post Thursday, Kent Walker, Google’s senior VP and general counsel, wrote, “We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means.”
SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act legislation, which, among other things, would have required search engines to strip out links to piracy sites. The bill, introduced in 2011, failed to pass muster in Congress after a major grassroots effort opposing it led by Google and others.
“At the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios… joined together to begin a new campaign” to determine how it could “secretly revive SOPA,” by lobbying state attorneys general on the issue, Walker alleged.
The MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA’s goals through non-legislative means, Walker asserted, citing reports by the Verge and other outlets based on emails divulged by the hackers who stole thousands of emails and other data from Sony in a cyber-attack that has debilitated the studio over the last three weeks.
In response, MPAA said in a statement: “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. Google’s blog post today is 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 — including illicit drug purchases, human trafficking and fraudulent documents as well as theft of intellectual property. 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.”
The monumental hack on Sony Pictures has led to the studio pulling distribution of “The Interview” from theatrical and digital release, along with disclosures of SPE salaries, personal employee info and internal studio financial documents as well as the release of at least five Sony films on piracy sites.
The MPAA, according to reports cited by Google, “joined together to begin a new campaign” to achieve wholesale site-blocking by convincing state prosecutors “to take up the fight against [Google],” Walker wrote. The movie studios “budgeted $500,000 a year towards providing legal support,” and the MPAA later sought up to $1.175 million for this campaign, according to Walker, pointing to the hacked email messages.
“While we of course have serious legal concerns about all of this, one disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part ‘to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists’ right to free expression,'” Walker wrote. “Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?”