JACKSON — A federal judge has ruled against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in his effort to keep Google from getting its hands on correspondence between Hood and lobbyists for the movie industry.
It’s the latest defeat for Hood in his effort to investigate the Internet search giant, after the same judge wrote a stinging opinion in March suggesting that Hood sent a 79-page subpoena to Google as retaliation for the company’s refusal to buckle under to Hood’s objections about what it posts online. The Democratic attorney general, though, may have the chance to launch a counteroffensive next week, as he hosts a conference of attorneys general in Biloxi examining online crime issues.
After U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate ruled blocking Hood’s investigation of Google in March, the Mountain View, California, company pressed its attempt to obtain copies of Hood’s correspondence with the Motion Picture Association of America. The Internet giant says Hood is part of a covert campaign by movie studios to use legal action to achieve enhanced piracy protection that Congress has rejected. The company and others say that the association may have had input into the subpoena Hood sent Google, point to a Hood letter that the group apparently did draft, and note that former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore was hired by the Digital Citizens Alliance, a nonprofit group funded by movie studios and other companies.
Hood, who says he’s only working with crime victims, sought to delay having to hand over the documents. But Wingate instructed him this week to produce them by Wednesday. Even after he lost, Hood’s office renewed his request Friday for a stay pending appeal.
Last fall’s subpoena demanded Google produce information on subjects including whether it helps criminals by allowing searches to find pirated music, by having its autocomplete function suggest illegal activities and by sharing YouTube ad revenue with makers of videos promoting illegal drug sales.
Google then sued Hood in Wingate’s court in Jackson. It argued that Hood’s investigation is blocked by a 1996 federal law that says Internet services are immune from lawsuits over what third parties say using the services. It also argues that Hood is infringing on its free speech rights.
Wingate orally granted Google a preliminary injunction on March 2, and released a full written order on March 27. That written opinion was highly critical of Hood, saying he couldn’t issue a subpoena to “wage an unduly burdensome fishing expedition into Google’s operations.”
The judge wrote Google had a legitimate fear of Hood coercing it into giving up its First Amendment right to free speech because it feared prosecution, and that Hood’s authority appeared to be overridden by federal law. Wingate wrote that it appeared likely that Google could prove at trial that “Hood has violated Google’s First Amendment rights by: regulating Google’s speech based on its content; by retaliating against Google for its protected speech (i.e., issuing the subpoena); and by seeking to place unconstitutional limits on the public’s access to information.”
No trial date has been set. In court papers, Hood’s office wrote settlement talks last month broke down.
Hood is using his presidency of the National Association of Attorneys General to focus on Internet crime and crime prevention this year, hosting a conference from Sunday through Tuesday on the subject.
Hood said digital piracy, one of his allegations against Google, is a serious part of online crime.
“Counterfeiting and piracy of U.S. products occurring on rogue websites is a serious issue,” he said in a Thursday news release. “Of particular concern to me is the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and other such dangerous goods. Counterfeit drugs may be loaded with dangerous or ineffective substances, either of which can be deadly.”
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