Judge Considers Google’s Case for Stopping Mississippi Anti-Piracy Probe

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A Mississippi federal judge on Friday held a hearing in a dispute between Google and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who is investigating whether the search giant is facilitating illegal activity and piracy.

The dispute gained traction following the hack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, when emails and other documents showed that the MPAA had lobbied Hood and other state attorneys general to pursue measures to fight piracy. Google contends that Hood’s investigation was motivated by studio lobbying.

U.S. District Judge Henry Wingate is considering Google’s request for an injunction to bar Hood from filing civil or criminal charges, or from pursuing a subpoena that the Internet giant maintains is “unlawful and burdensome.” Google cites immunity granted by the Communications Decency Act, which protects Internet companies from liability for third-party content, as well as First Amendment protections.

Wingate indicated that he would rule by Feb. 24, according to the Associated Press.

In the Oct. 21 subpoena, the Mississippi attorney general claimed that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that Google was violating the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act in a number of ways, including its autocomplete function, which automatically fills in search terms for the user. The subpoena demanded 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.

In December, Google general counsel Kent Walker suggested that Hood’s action was motivated by studios’ effort to revive, through the states, anti-piracy legislation that was sidelined in Congress in 2012. Walker said they were “deeply concerned” about reports that the studio trade association was conducting a “secret, coordinated campaign” via state officials, and even did the “legal legwork” for Hood. The MPAA responded, saying that Google’s “effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful” and that its legal challenge was “a transparent attempt to deflect focus from its own conduct.”

Google filed suit in December, seeking to block Hood’s investigation.

Google, in its motion, alleged that Hood “took these actions following a sustained lobbying effort from the Motion Picture Association of America.” The MPAA, however, said that its lobbying efforts and contributions to Hood and other states attorneys general have long been publicly disclosed.

In a brief filed late last month, Hood said that what Google was asking for was “quite extraordinary in that it asks this court to interfere with an ongoing state investigation by the attorney general before having to respond to a validly issued administrative subpoena.” He is seeking to dismiss Google’s litigation and is supported by 11 attorneys general from other states.

Google, however, claims that Hood has “threatened, and then served, an extraordinarily burdensome subpoena in retaliation for Google’s refusal to comply with his unlawful censorship demands.” The Consumer Electronics Assn. and the Computer and Communications Industry Assn. are among the groups backing Google.