Ever since the Sony hack was unveiled, it's been clear that the movie studios haven't given up on SOPA, but an analysis of the MPAA's collective actions on the anti-piracy issue have unveiled plans that go far beyond simply sponsoring legislation or advocating for particular positions. Now, Google has announced it will fight to dismiss lawsuits filed by Mississippi's Attorney General Jim Hood, alleging that the AG in that state is acting as a paid, sponsored lackey of the movie industry.
Understanding Project Goliath
The collision between the MPAA and Google arises from a fundamental disagreement over what Google's role should be when it comes to piracy prevention and what powers should be delegated to the movie studios themselves. The MPAA and RIAA have advocated for two basic concepts: first, that rights holders should have more power and greater leeway to take action against websites that infringe content and second, that Google and other search engines should take more action than they do to prevent piracy.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood
Google has given the MPAA and RIAA tools to scan for and automatically request the removal of infringing content, but has pushed back hard against serving as the Internet Police and adamantly opposes the MPAA's attempts to gain the authority to automatically issue DNS redirect orders or other restrictions that could compromise the function of the Internet itself.
After its efforts to sponsor federal legislation failed repeatedly, the MPAA hit upon a new tactic. Instead of pushing at the national level, it would advocate for state Attorney Generals to take action.
This, not-so-incidentally, is where we part ways with what an average citizen would consider "acceptable influence." It's accepted that a company or organization will lobby for its viewpoints. It's accepted that an organization will donate campaign funds to officials that support its views. The MPAA has gone several steps beyond that, by essentially providing legal aid, case-writing, and extensive position papers and research to the Attorney Generals that were willing to pursue its case against Google. This blurs the line between advocating for a position and abusing the power of an elected position. The letter ostensibly sent to Google making accusations against the company?
The letter was literally written by the MPAA's attack dogs, the law firm of Jenner & Block LLP.
Google, in filing to have the charges dismissed, relies on the multiple court cases, laws, and precedents that forbid the massive 80-page fishing investigation that the Mississippi Attorney General launched. While the AG's office has publicly claimed to have had no contact with the MPAA and not to know their law firms, the Sony leaks detail an entirely different story in which the MPAA met extensively with Hood and his staff.
Google's filing alleges that Hood has demanded "Google pre-screen or block third-party content and search results that may merely involve illegal activity, even at the cost of burdening lawful, protected speech." He has asked for "a 24-hour link through which attorneys general can request that links to particular websites be removed from search results within hours." He's served as pass-through for requests from the MPAA, giving them cover and authority of his own office. And he continues to argue that Google "facilitates and profits from numerous illegal online activities." Google obviously strenuously disputes this characterization.
This is the problem with attempting to give the MPAA some of what it wants. At every turn, the organization (which seeks to show itself as reasonably attempting to secure copyright from piracy) demonstrates, in fact, that it is unreasonably and irrationally committed to courses of action that would damage the function of the Internet far more than digital distribution.
In the MPAA's ideal world, content rights holders are unquestioned gatekeepers with veto power over the entire Internet, in which ISPs and search engines are both required to immediately remove content without appeal or recourse and legally liable if they fail to do so. The industry's response, post-SOPA, wasn't to recognize that citizens found its demands repulsive, but to double down on those demands and seek to advance its agenda through utter subversion of the office of Attorney General.
It may be true that Google could do more to protect the content creation industry from piracy, but these tyrannical demands and total abuses of power do nothing to help its cause. If anything, they increase the likelihood of no positive action, simply because the MPAA and RIAA have so utterly poisoned the well, few Internet companies will touch their negotiating efforts.