Google filed a lawsuit against the Mississippi attorney general on Friday, accusing Jim Hood of using his office to wage an unlawful campaign against the Internet giant.
In its suit, Google points to e-mails released as part of a massive cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. The e-mails appear to show that Hood coordinated with the Motion Picture Association of America -- a longtime foe for Google -- as part a campaign to force Google to crack down on criminals selling counterfeit prescription medicine and drugs online. This follows reports by the Verge and The New York Times about the alleged campaign, which they said was code named "Goliath."
The suit seeks to block a subpoena issued by Hood, a Democrat, for information on how Google cracks down on ads that promote the sale of illegal drugs through its search engine or YouTube. Hood has been leading the charge with a handful of state attorneys general on this issue for more than a year.
Hood, who is also the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, said in a statement that he is "calling a time out" on the investigation to allow "cooler heads to prevail." But he stood by his decisions to ask Google for more information on how it deals with the sale of illegal drugs through third-party ads on its sites. Earlier this week, he told the Huffington Post that the MPAA has had "has no major influence on my decision-making," and that he is simply trying to crack down on the sale of illegal drugs online.
In a blog post Thursday, Google said that the e-mails revealed a campaign that sought to stifle free expression and to revive the Stop Online Piracy Act. That bill, which died in Congress in 2012 after massive populist and tech industry opposition, was criticized by many free expression advocates who said it would set a dangerous precedent for censorship in its effort to stop access to stolen material online.
Among the main concerns of opponents were that SOPA would allow creation of an Internet "blacklist" that could be abused to keep average people from finding sites that the government found objectionable.
"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, and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood," said Kent Walker, the company's general counsel and senior vice president.
Google also launched a campaign Thursday asking users to "take action" by telling the MPAA to stop trying to revive "#zombieSOPA."
The MPAA shot back with a statement of its own shortly after that post went up: "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."
MPAA said that Google's statement 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."
Hood also questioned Google's motives and added that the company has been less than cooperative with his inquiries:
In hopes of continuing to work with Google, without any fanfare or press release, my Consumer Protection Division issued an administrative subpoena asking for documents. Google sent more than 99,000 jumbled, unsearchable documents in a data dump. I agreed to give Google additional time to comply with our request and hoped we could reach an agreement. Instead, after the Sony hack, Google’s General Counsel Kent Walker began blogging and feeding the media a salacious Hollywood tale. Now, feeling emboldened with its billions of dollars, media prowess and political power, some of its more excitable people have sued trying to stop the State of Mississippi for daring to ask some questions. We expect more from one of the wealthiest corporations in the world.
In its suit, Google acknowledges that the sale of illegal prescriptions and other banned items is a problem. "To be clear, Google agrees that much of the third-party content about which the attorney general complains is objectionable," the company said. "And with great care, Google voluntarily strives to exclude content that violates either federal law or Google’s own policies, by blocking or removing hundreds of millions of videos, web pages, advertisements and links in the last year alone. These extensive efforts comply with and go well beyond Google’s legal obligations."
But, Google said Hood's subpoena violates the First Amendment by asking a private company to censor material. The tech firm also said in the filing that the subpoena is "overbroad."