The search engine giant is not getting the results it wants and Google has turned to the courts to make NBCUniversal, Viacom, 21st Century Fox and a heavyweight law firm cough them up. In virtually identical filings in federal court in New York and Washington D.C. earlier this week, the tech giant seeks court orders to make the studios and lobbyists at Jenner & Block hand over subpoenaed internal documents that allegedly reveal the shadowy harmonized efforts behind an investigation of Google by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood. As they have in the past, Google claims the Motion Picture Association of America strung together a “supposed consumer rights organization heavily funded by the MPAA called the Digital Citizens Alliance” to pursue “an anti-Google agenda” as well as provide cover for Hood.
“Google expects the documents will show that the Attorney General, the Subpoenaed Parties, and their lobbyists understood that his actions invaded the exclusive province of federal law,” said a memorandum of law attached to the motion filed in District Court on June 1 (read it here). “More fundamentally, the documents are likely to show that the Attorney General’s investigation was intended not to uncover supposed violations of Mississippi law, but instead to coerce Google into silencing speech that Viacom, Fox, and NBC do not like (such as search results, user-generated content and advertising), in violation of Google’s constitutional rights.” While mentioned frequently in both the NYC and DC filings, the MPAA is not formally named as a defendant though obviously the three studios that are named are all members of the lobby group.
“This is just the latest effort by Google to distract attention from legitimate questions about whether it is profiting from illegal activity online, including fake pharmaceuticals, fraudulent documents, stolen intellectual property and more,” a MPAA spokesperson said today in reaction to the filings. “Google is not above the law. Attorney General Hood should be allowed to investigate whether Google’s actions violate state consumer protection laws.”
After the so-called “Project Goliath” initiative was revealed out of leaks from the massive Sony hack late last year, the internet company on December 19 went after the endeavour by Hood and by definition his alleged studio puppet masters to resurrect the failed anti-piracy Stop Online Piracy Act of 2011 by other means. In March U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate threw out Hood’s attempt to dismiss the case and shut down the Mississippi probe into Goggle. The Judge also ruled that the company had successfully had shown a “substantial likelihood” it would prevail on First Amendment violations by Hood’s investigation. Actions by the AG of America’s 20th state would “produce a chilling effect on Google’s protected speech,” said Wingate.
“Google subpoenaed the studios for information about behind-the-scenes maneuvering that fomented AG Hood’s violations of Google’s Constitutional and federal rights,” says the filing by lawyers Morris J. Fodeman, David Kramer and Michael Rubin of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati’s NYC and Palo Alto offices. “To date, the Subpoenaed Parties have produced nothing. They have inexplicably delayed producing the few documents they agreed to turn over, and have objected that many of their documents, including internal notes or summaries of meetings with AG Hood, are irrelevant or protected by some unsubstantiated privilege,” the Google attorneys add. This week’s filings aside, sources tell me that the parties have been talking about what documents will be handed over and when – though this latest public and somewhat procedural move might make those negotiations a bit more tense.
“Viacom, Fox, and NBC all refuse to produce any documents until a confidentiality order is entered to shield the documents from public view,” the NYC filing notes. “Google’s case is directed to a matter of significant public concern: the prolonged coercion of Google by a public official in derogation of the free speech rights of both Google and its users.”
With a clear kick at the studios, the MPAA and Jenner & Block, Google concludes: “It is difficult to see why documents relating to those activities should be kept from the public.” Google want a hearing on their request on July 14.