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Politics has a nasty penchant for weaseling its way into many aspects of peoples’ businesses and lives- even into places where it doesn’t belong.  Along these lines, an ongoing fight between the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and Google is heating up quite substantially due to some juicy email(s).


A legitimate concern about Internet piracy or something more? Google and others allege that the Motion Picture Association of America improperly used the office of the state Attorney General to orchestrate a smear campaign against Google.

Perhaps you’ve been following the ongoing story about the MPAA’s war on Google.  If you haven’t, though, we’ll recap a bit because, in all seriousness, this is very, very important stuff.

     If we want to be kind, we could say that the MPAA started out being concerned about piracy occurring on the Internet. And most of us ‘regular’ people hold fair play in high regard. That being said, though, it appears that various players in the MPAA anti-Google crusade have left us with a lot of questions and a lot of concerns.

     To recap, the MPAA pretty much blames Google for piracy and copyright violations that occur on the Internet. YouTube seems to be a particular thorn for the MPAA. In December, Google’s Public Policy Blog explained that:

We [Google] 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.

“SOPA” is short for the Stop Online Piracy Act. According to Google, if passed, SOPA would have led to censorship across the web. Public support for SOPA was low and, ultimately, the bill was not passed.

As reported by the Verge (and stated in Google’s post):

[A]t the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios … joined together to begin a new campaign” to figure how it could secretly revive SOPA. It “joined together to begin a new campaign” to achieve wholesale site-blocking by “[convincing] state prosecutors to take up the fight against [Google].” The movie studios “budgeted $500,000 a year towards providing legal support”—and the MPAA later sought up to $1.175 million for this campaign.

     Now, it’s true that many of us have a love/hate relationship with Google for various good reasons. All true. But Google is legally classified as an ISP provider. That provides Google with specific legal safe harbors and certain legal responsibilities, which according to all accounts, Google apparently fulfilled. Notwithstanding, it’s alleged that the MPAA was incensed because, in its opinion, Google wasn’t doing enough about piracy on the Internet. It’s also alleged that the MPAA set out on an improper legal and media crusade to discredit Google, including an alleged attempt to weaken Google’s stock. Obviously, the MPAA’s position is that it hasn’t done anything underhanded or illegal.

     While it’s unclear at this point whether any laws were broken, some juicy MPAA emails and the District Court in Mississippi’s decision suggest at least a bit of underhandedness.  In fact, TechDirt characterized the emails as a ‘smoking gun’ and the MPAA’s actions as a “smear campaign:”

Earlier this month, we noted that the Hollywood studios were all resisting subpoenas from Google concerning their super cozy relationship with Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, whose highly questionable “investigation” of Google appeared to actually be run by the MPAA and the studios themselves. The entire “investigation” seemed to clearly be an attempt to mislead the public into believing that it was somehow illegal for Google’s search engine to find stuff that people didn’t like online. A court has already ruled that Hood pretty clearly acted in bad faith to deprive Google of its First Amendment rights. As the case has continued, Google has sought much more detail on just how much of the investigation was run by the MPAA and the studios — and Hollywood has vigorously resisted, claiming that they really had nothing to do with all of this, which was a laughable assertion.

     The actual email and Judge Lorna Schofield’s July 23rd decision is attached to the TechDirt article here (scroll to the end of the article). But the text of the email is reprinted for you below (courtesy of TechDirt):

“Media: We want to make sure that the media is at the NAAG meeting. We propose working with MPAA (Vans), Comcast, and NewsCorp (Bill Guidera) to see about working with a PR firm to create an attack on Google (and others who are resisting AG efforts to address online piracy). This PR firm can be funded through a nonprofit dedicated to IP issues. The “live buys” should be available for the media to see, followed by a segment the next day on the Today Show (David green can help with this). After the Today Show segment, you want to have a large investor of Google (George can help us determine that) come forward and say that Google needs to change its behavior/demand reform. Next, you want NewsCorp to develop and place an editorial in the WSJ emphasizing that Google’s stock will lose value in the face of a sustained attack by AGs and noting some of the possible causes of action we have developed.”

     Another part of the email goes on to say:

“Following the media blitz, you want Bill Guidera and Rick Smotkin to work with the PR firm to identify a lawyer specializing in SEC matters to work with a stockholder. This lawyer should be able to the [sic] identify the appropriate regulatory filing to be made against Google.”

    Currently, Google is going through the federal courts’ discovery process to obtain additional relevant emails from MPAA.  So, we’ll have to wait to see how the story develops over the next few months.

     Hopefully, though, the allegations against the MPAA and Attorney General Hood got your attention- this is very serious stuff. Why? Let us count the ways:

  1. One company/industry association allegedly “provides funding” that allegedly “convinces” the enforcement apparatus of the U.S. government to investigate and go after another company;
  2. various arms of the media, including TV and newspapers, are allegedly enlisted by company #1 to assist in a smear campaign against company #2;
  3. Company #1 allegedly orchestrates an editorial to be written by a major newspaper’s editorial board to purposely question the health of company #2’s stock in light of the investigation (which was allegedly funded by company #1) and the associated news stories (which were allegedly prompted by company #1); and, last but not least,
  4. there are unconfirmed yet hinted allegations that company #1 was ready to convince the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate company #2.

     Unfortunately, the MPAA/Google case is not the first, and it won’t be the last, time that a disturbing blending of political/legal/business lines has occurred under the guise of intellectual property protection. Back in 2003, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush allegedly attempted to influence the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board in a trademark dispute involving Bacardi. Gov. Bush claimed that there was no wrongdoing and that he was only supporting a business constituent in an important matter. The Bacardi case and its political entanglements, though, are intriguing and disturbing to many. We’ll be following the MPAA/Google case closely and we’ll also revisit the Bacardi case in greater detail later in the week.

In the meantime, what do you think?

Keep in mind that all the allegations against MPAA (as well as against AG Jim Hood) are just that- only allegations, and that any opinions we express are our own, and that we don’t speak for TechDirt, Verge, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, Google or anyone else mentioned.