In the latest twist in its long-running battle with the Motion Picture Association of America, Google on Wednesday formally accused the organization of orchestrating an extensive lobbying campaign against the search giant.
In a federal court hearing in Washington, Google lawyer Michael H. Rubin told a judge that the MPAA, its lawyers, some of the studios it represents and a related public policy group should turn over internal documents related to their efforts to paint Google as complicit in online piracy.
MPAA has had a long-running battle with Google over allegations that the search provider isn’t doing enough to prevent pirated content from showing up in its search listings.
The battle grew more intense after Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed a 79-page information request in a subpoena last October.
Rubin pointed to the role the MPAA and its lawyers played in preparing Hood’s request, arguing that Hood’s subsequent denial that the request originated with the MPAA provides sufficient reason for the MPAA to turn over its own internal documents about its lobbying effort.
He described the MPAA and its lawyers as “the architects” of Hood’s anti-Google effort.
Google has contended that the request was drafted by the MPAA’s lawyers and sent by Hood at the organization’s instigation. It was issued after Google rejected Hood’s request that it remove some online content from its search results. The New York Times has reported that leaked Sony Pictures documents showed the MPAA, unhappy with Google, orchestrated a campaign called Project Goliath to convince state attorneys general to take on the search giant.
Instead of providing Hood the information, Google sued and successfully got the subpoena blocked. Google then turned aggressive in trying to discern the MPAA’s role: In Mississippi, for instance, Google demanded state records about MPAA meetings and emails and filed three other related court cases seeking more information from MPAA and others about the organization’s role.
In the Washington case, Google is seeking information from MPAA itself, MPAA lawyers Jenner & Block and the Digital Citizens Alliance about their role in pushing Hood to act. In a New York district court case, it is seeking information from Twentieth Century Fox, Viacom and NBC Universal about their role in pushing other attorneys generals to act. A hearing in the New York case is slated for Friday. A third case was filed in San Francisco.
MPAA has already furnished most of the e-mails it sent Hood to Google and those e-mails first provided under seal have now been released. The remaining fight is largely over whether MPAA’s internal e-mails and in New York, the e-mails from Viacom, Fox and NBCU about their efforts to convince other attorneys general to act will need to be provided.
Google has argued that the Mississippi e-mails provided so far detail a “remarkably cozy” relationship between MPAA officials and Hood that include dinners in several cities, a fundraising dinner in New Orleans and warrant disclosure.
“The parties made repeated visits to AG Hood to guide his anti-Google work,” Google said in one court filing.
In both the Washington and New York cases, the immediate fight is a legal one over who gets to decide what e-mails should be disclosed. Google has asked that the Mississippi judge hearing its case against Hood handle the cases. The MPAA, its individual members, the law firm and the Digital Citizens Alliance want Google’s request for their information to be decided separately in Washington and New York.
In court on Tuesday, Rubin argued that MPAA and Jenner & Block were “intricately involved” in preparing Hunt’s missive and that the MPAA’s internal documents go to Hood’s credibility in claiming his effort wasn’t directed by MPAA and are therefore part of the Mississippi case.
David A. Handzo, speaking for Jenner & Block and for MPAA, argued that because the internal documents were never provided to Hood, the documents’ legal standing should be decided by other judges.
A lawyer representing the Digital Citizens Alliance on Wednesday noted the high stakes of the fight.
The lawyer called Google’s request to move the case to Mississippi “onerous” and that it bordered on being an attempt to use legal tactics “to inflict the maximum possible damage” on the search company’s critics.