Okay, it’s no secret that the MPAA hates Google. It doesn’t take a psychology expert to figure that out. But in the last few days, some of the leaks from the Sony Pictures hack have revealed the depths of that hatred, raising serious questions about how the MPAA abuses the legal process in corrupt and dangerous ways. The most serious charge — unfortunately completely buried by this report at The Verge — is that it appears the MPAA and the major Hollywood studios directly funded various state Attorneys General in their efforts to attack and shame Google. Think about that for a second.
There’s a lot of background here that’s important (beyond just the MPAA really hates Google). First, as you know, the MPAA has certainly not given up on its SOPA desire to get certain websites completely blocked. The leaked emails reveal a lot more about that (which we’ll get to). Second, a year ago, the MPAA hired a pitbull of an anti-piracy lawyer in naming Steve Fabrizio its General Counsel. Fabrizio has spent the last decade and a half or so deeply involved in litigating a bunch of anti-piracy battles at both the RIAA and the MPAA/RIAA’s favorite big law firm, Jenner & Block. This is not a guy you hire if you’re looking to innovate. This is a guy you hire if you want to get into knock-down, dirty legal fights.
Third, there is the role of state Attorneys General. A recent NY Times article detailed how lobbyists have figured out ways to effectively “lobby” state Attorneys General to do their bidding. Frequently, this is around getting the state AGs to drop investigations (and potential lawsuits) against companies. The article is somewhat eye-opening, as it’s hard to distinguish much of what’s discussed from straight up bribery. There is talk of lavish events, travel and dinners all paid for by corporate lobbyists for state AGs, often followed soon after with dropped, or reduced investigations. In one case, an AG told staff not to start an investigation into a public company without first getting his approval. Campaign funding is a big part of it as well, as these lobbyists dump lots of money into AG campaigns. And it’s no secret that the state Attorney General position is often seen as a stepping stone to a Governorship or US Senate job.
We’ve discussed in the past that state Attorneys General are often the biggest grandstanders, as their main goal in certain investigations seems to be about generating headlines for themselves, rather than any real legal basis. More than four years ago, we wrote about Topix CEO Chris Tolles’experience being hounded by state Attorneys’ General so they could get a bunch of headlines out of something in which everyone admitted Topix wasn’t actually doing anything illegal. Along those lines, we’ve noted that popular tech companies have increasingly been a target for state AGs — because they’re almost sure to generate headlines. We’ve also noted that state AGs have been pushing for changes to federal laws, like Section 230 of the CDA, to allow them to further go after big tech companies for things like actions of their users.
Not surprisingly, Google has been a popular target for some state AGs. In the past, we’ve written about state Attorneys General from Nebraska and Oklahoma blaming Google for videos made by users, and about Texas’ Attorney General going after Google for supposed antitrust violations(based on the same claims that the FTC later dropped entirely). But the state Attorney General with the biggest chip on his shoulder for Google has absolutely been Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who seemed to think that it was Google’s fault that he could find counterfeit goods via search. A few months later, he was back blaming Google for infringement online as well.
This was no accident. What’s come out of the Sony Pictures Leak is not just that the MPAA was buddying up to state Attorneys General, but that the MPAA was funding some of this activity and actively supporting the investigation. The leaked emails reveal that rather than seeing that NY Times article about corporate/AG corruption as a warning sign, the MPAA viewed it as a playbook. But not for preventing investigations but for encouraging and funding them. This appears to goway beyond that NY Times article. This isn’t campaign donations or inviting AGs to speak at lavish events and paying for the travel. This is flat out paying AGs to investigate Google (even on issues unrelated to copyright infringement) and then promising to get extra press attention to those articles.