Google Plays Hardball With Hollywood Studios Over Subpoenaed Documents

Internet giant wants records from Viacom, Twenty-First Century Fox and NBCUniversal in alleged anti-Google conspiracy

Google is trying to force three Hollywood studios to cough up documents in a legal tussle the search giant calls a conspiracy against its First Amendment rights — namely, its ability to post user-generated content, and what sometimes may be called pirated videos, on the Internet.

In nearly identical briefs filed this week in federal courts in the Southern District of New York and in Washington, D.C., Google asks that Viacom, Twenty-First Century Fox and NBCUniversal be forced to comply with a subpoena issued by a judge in Mississippi, where Google is at war with state Attorney General Jim Hood.

Google says Hood hounded the company for years and teamed up with the studios, the MPAA and a nonprofit called Digital Citizens Alliance to reach out to attorneys general in other states for help in pursuing an anti-Google agenda. A New York Times article last December described those efforts. 

Google sued Hood after his office slapped it with a Civil Investigative Demand (CID) late last year. Mississippi judge Henry Wingate took the company’s side, issuing a preliminary injunction prohibiting Hood from enforcing the CID.

In March, Google subpoenaed the studios for their communications with Hood or with any other attorney general’s office where Google is mentioned, and for records of campaign contributions to Hood or any other attorney general. Google said it has “still not received a single document.”

In a statement to TheWrap, the MPAA caleld the filings “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.”

“Google is not above the law. Attorney General Hood should be allowed to investigate whether Google’s actions violate state consumer protection laws,” the group added.

The studios, according to Google, have said the requested documents are either irrelevant or protected.

In its filings this week, the company claimed the requested papers “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.”

Google is used to fighting on multiple legal fronts. European antitrust authorities recently brought a formal complaint against the company for favoring its own search results over its competitors, along with a second probe of Google’s practices regarding its Android mobile operating system.