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Goliath strikes back: Google takes legal action against Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood

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Last Friday, The Verge published leaked documents revealing a secret legal campaign to discredit Google, coordinated by the MPAA on behalf of the major Hollywood studios. The documents show a continued focus on the power to blocking sites from the web — a central issue in the 2011 SOPA debates — and a concerted effort to enlist state attorney generals in that fight. Both Google and the MPAA have issued harsh statements over the news, but today the fight is growing into a full-fledged legal battle.

Google is striking back against the Goliath project

This morning, Google filed a lawsuit in Mississippi district court against State Attorney General Jim Hood, alleging Hood had singled the company out for a "burdensome, retaliatory" subpoena. (Hood has faced scrutiny for his role in the MPAA efforts.) "We regret having to take this matter to court," Google said in a statement, "and we are doing so only after years of efforts to explain both the merits of our position and the extensive steps we've taken on our platforms."

Alongside the lawsuit, Google has launched evidentiary actions against the MPAA and its retained counsel at Jenner & Block, asking them to retain documents for a possible future action. Alongside the legal campaign, Google has launched a public advocacy campaign against the MPAA's newly revealed site-blocking measures, asking users "kill off #ZombieSOPA" with a petition to the MPAA. Google has fought the legal actions before, but this is the first time the company has gone on the offense, and suggests a new dynamic in the ongoing struggle between Google and the MPAA. Google is striking back against the Goliath project, and it's doing so in court.

The lawsuit centers on a subpoena Hood delivered on October 27th, 2014, asserting that Google anti-piracy provisions were violating a Mississippi consumer protection law. Google says it's protected under federal law and the first amendment, and that the subpoena is an attempt to coerce them into blocking sites that infringe on copyright. "The Attorney General may prefer a pre-filtered Internet," the lawsuit reads, "but the Constitution and Congress have denied him the authority to mandate it." While the case is pending, Google's suit also asks that the court enjoin Hood from enforcing the subpoena or bringing any new charges against Google, which would stop Hood's crusade in its tracks.

"The Attorney General may prefer a pre-filtered Internet, but the Constitution and Congress have denied him the authority to mandate it."

According to Google's lawsuit, Hood's subpoena asked for far more data than necessary, so much that simply complying with the order became a penalty. The subpoena asked for 141 specific documents, 62 interviews, and a broad request for any information relating to "dangerous content" hosted on Google's network. If Google fails to include anything that fits that description, it could open the door for further lawsuits, creating a potentially staggering burden of evidence. "In order to respond to the Subpoena in full," today's lawsuit alleges, "Google would have to produce millions of documents, at great expense and disruption to its business."

The suit also emphasizes Google's own efforts to make it easier to report infringing or dangerous content. According to the lawsuit YouTube engineers created a custom reporting tool for Hood earlier this year, and trained his office on how to use it. Unfortunately, Hood seems to have been unimpressed by the tool. "To date, over half a year later, the Attorney General has used this tool to report only seven videos," the lawsuit reads. "Nor, to the best of Google’s knowledge, has the Attorney General filed any legal action against any of the actual creators of the specific underlying content to which he has objected."

Google's counteroffensive isn't limited to Attorney General Hood. The company has also issued a document preservation notice to both the MPAA and the law firm Jenner & Block, asking them to retain documents related to the Goliath campaign and hinting at further legal action in the future. The result is a major campaign against a program that, until a week ago, no one outside of Hollywood studios knew about. It's just the kind of counteroffensive MPAA executives worried about in the initial email leaks, when they raised concerns over "what Goliath could do if it went on the attack." Now that the plans are public, it looks as if we're going to find out.

12:02pm ET: Updated to include a copy of Google v. Jim Hood and official Google statement