About a month ago, we noted that a federal court had granted a temporary injunction blocking a subpoena issued by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, demanding all sorts of information from Google. At the time, the judge only said that Google’s argument was “stronger” than Hood’s, but said a full ruling would come out in time. That full ruling is now out, and boy, does it make Jim Hood’s anti-Google vendetta look questionable — specifically saying that there is “significant evidence of bad faith” on the part of Hood to try to use his government position to unconstitutionally coerce Google into making changes to its service that it has no legal obligation to make.
If you don’t recall, Hood has a long-standing obsession with Google, despite having an astounding level of ignorance about how the search engine actually operates. In his anti-Google rants, Hood makes statements that are blatantly false and repeatedly argues that Google is to blame merely because its search engine finds websites that Hood’s office doesn’t like and doesn’t think should exist at all. And that doesn’t even touch on the now known fact that the MPAA secretly funded Hood’s investigation and wrote nearly every word of the threatening letters sent to Google.
While Hood and various MPAA supporters have insisted that he’s clearly in the right, at least federal judge Henry Wingate doesn’t see much to support that. Hood tried desperately to keep this issue out of federal court, using a variety of claims, including the so-called “Younger Abstention” which argues that federal courts should stay out of certain issues. However, as Wingate notes, that only applies in three specific cases, none of which apply to Hood’s campaign against Google — and, even if any of them did apply, there’s a further exception for “bad faith” — and Wingate is pretty convinced that Hood is acting in bad faith:
Moreover, even if the Younger elements were satisfied here, the court would not be required to abstain here because an exception to the application of the doctrine applies. Indeed, federal courts may disregard the Younger doctrine when a state court proceeding was brought in bad faith or with the purpose of harassing the federal plaintiff… Google has presented significant evidence of bad faith, allegedly showing that Attorney General Hood’s investigation and issuance of the subpoena represented an effort to coerce Google to comply with his requests regarding content removal. As previously discussed, the Attorney General made statements, on multiple occasions, which purport to show his intent to take legal action against Google for Google’s perceived violations. When Google declined to fulfill certain requests, the Attorney General issued a 79-page subpoena shortly thereafter. The court is persuaded that this conduct may evidence bad faith on the part of the Attorney General.
The MPAA and Google are not on speaking terms, to say the least.
In recent years the Hollywood group has pushed Google and other search engines to increase their anti-piracy efforts.
This prompted the search giant to filter certain keywords and update its algorithms to downrank pirate sites, but the MPAA is still not happy. Ideally, they want Google to de-list pirate sites entirely.
In a related effort, the group has been sending very targeted takedown requests. Instead of linking to individual download or streaming pages, they ask for the removal of the homepages of various pirate sites.
While these homepages often list links to infringing movies, as shown here, they also include a lot of other content that’s not specified in the takedowns. As a result, Google refuses to take action.
The MPAA’s most recent request lists 43 allegedly infringing URLs and Google refused to take 36 out of its search results, a total of 86 percent.
As you may know, we’ve been covering the story of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and his campaign against Google. A few years ago, we noted how bizarre it was that Hood and other state Attorneys General seemed to be blaming Google for all kinds of bad things online. It seemed to show a fundamental lack of understanding about how the internet (and the law!) worked. Of course, things became somewhat more “understandable” when emails leaked in the Sony Hack revealed that the MPAA had an entire “Project Goliath” designed around attacking Google, and the centerpiece of it was funding Jim Hood’s investigation into Google, including handling most of the lawyering, writing up Hood’s letters to Google and even the “civil investigative demand” (CID — basically a subpoena) that he could send.
Hood lashed out angrily about all of this, even as the NY Times revealed that the metadata on the letter he sent Google showed that it was really written by top MPAA lawyers. Hood continued to angrily lash out, demonstrating how little he seemed to understand about the internet. He made claims that were simply untrue — including pretending that Google would take users to Silk Road, the dark market hidden site that could never be found via a Google search. Hood also dared reporters to find any evidence of funding from Hollywood, and it didn’t take us long to find direct campaign contributions to his PAC from the MPAA and others.
Given all of this, we filed a Mississippi Public Records request with his office, seeking his email communications with the MPAA, its top lawyers and with the Digital Citizens Alliance, an MPAA front-group that has released highly questionable studies on “piracy” and just so happened to have hired Hood’s close friend Mike Moore to lobby Hood in Mississippi. Moore was the Mississippi Attorney General before Hood and helped Hood get into politics.
We’ve had to go back and forth with Hood’s office a few times. First, his office noted that Google had actually filed a similar request, and wanted to know if we were working for Google in making the request. We had no idea Google made such a request and certainly were not working on behalf of Google in making our request — but Hood’s office helpfully forwarded us Google’s request, which was actually a hell of a lot more detailed and comprehensive than our own. This actually is helpful in pointing to some other areas of interest to explore.
However, after some more back and forth, Hood’s office first said that it would refuse to share the emails between Hood and the MPAA’s lawyers as they “constitute attorney-client communications” or “attorney work product” and that finding the rest of the emails would… require an upfront payment of $2,103.10