Hollywood’s war against Google

Ars Technica reports: Tensions between Google and Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood exploded into public view this week, as Google filed court papers seeking to halt a broad subpoena Hood sent to the company.

The Hood subpoena, delivered in late October, didn’t come out of nowhere. Hood’s investigation got revved up after at least a year of intense lobbying by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). E-mails that hackers acquired from Sony Pictures executives and then dumped publicly now show the inner workings of how that lobbying advanced—and just how extensive it was. Attorneys at Sony were on a short list of top Hollywood lawyers frequently updated about the MPAA’s “Attorney General Project,” along with those at Disney, Warner Brothers, 21st Century Fox, NBC Universal, and Paramount.

The e-mails show a staggering level of access to, and influence over, elected officials. The MPAA’s single-minded obsession: altering search results and other products (such as “autocompleted” search queries) from Google, a company the movie studios began referring to as “Goliath” in around February 2014. The studios’ goal was to quickly get pirated content off the Web; unhappy about the state of Google’s voluntary compliance with their demands and frustrated in their efforts at passing new federal law such as SOPA and PIPA, the MPAA has turned instead to state law enforcement.

The most controversial elements of SOPA/PIPA would have let content owners effectively shut down websites they said were infringing their copyrights or trademarks. This already happens—think of various peer-to-peer sites that no longer exist—but it usually involves drawn-out litigation. SOPA promised a faster-moving process that would have essentially made rights holders a website’s judge, jury, and executioner.

To get the same results in a post-SOPA world, MPAA has hired some of the nation’s most well-connected lawyers. The project is spearheaded by Thomas Perrelli, a Jenner & Block partner and former Obama Administration lawyer. Perrelli has given attorneys general (AGs) across the country their talking points, suggesting realistic “asks” prior to key meetings with Google. Frustrated with a lack of results, Perrelli and top MPAA lawyers then authorized an “expanded Goliath strategy” in which they would push the AGs to move beyond mere letter writing. Instead, they would seek full-bore investigations against Google.

If the AGs felt short on resources—well, Hollywood studios could help with that. Money from Sony and other Big Six studios was available to draft the actual subpoenas, to research legal theories to prosecute Google, to spread negative press about the search giant, and to reach out to other state AGs that might join with Hood.

This is how the project unfolded over the past year. [Continue reading…]

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