Google: Hollywood Is 'Trying to Secretly Censor the Internet'

Leaked emails reveal movie studios have been encouraging state officials to go after Google as part of a fight against online piracy.

Google is going after the major movie studios with guns blazing after learning of a secret legal campaign against it.

Kent Walker, Google's general counsel, said in a blog post Thursday that he is "deeply concerned" about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America is leading a "secret, coordinated campaign" to revive the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and block access to websites.

He noted that defending free expression is a founding principle of the MPAA. "Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?" he asked.

The allegations are based on recent news reports and leaked Hollywood executive emails from the hack of Sony Pictures.

Kate Bedingfield, a spokeswoman for the MPAA, called the blog post "shameful," and argued that free speech is not a "license to steal."

"Google's blog post today is a transparent attempt to deflect focus from its own conduct and to shift attention from legitimate and important ongoing investigations by state attorneys general into the role of Google Search in enabling and facilitating illegal conduct - including illicit drug purchases, human trafficking and fraudulent documents as well as theft of intellectual property," she said.

The movie industry will continue to "seek the assistance of any and all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, to protect the rights of all involved in creative activities," she said.

The tech news site The Verge reported this week, citing leaked emails, that the MPAA and six major studios launched a coordinated campaign this year to block pirate websites. A key tactic in the campaign is to convince state prosecutors to go after Google (which is code-named "Goliath" in the emails).

The New York Times, relying on open-records requests and leaked emails, reported that the movie studios even drafted subpoenas and legal briefs for the state attorneys general.

In October, Jim Hood, Mississippi's attorney general, issued a 79-page subpoena demanding that Google turn over documents related to advertisements and search results for drugs, fake IDs, and stolen credit-card numbers. Hood's investigation has been closely coordinated with Hollywood lobbyists, according to the reports.

The movie-studio lawyers believe that if they can get state attorneys general to block the illegal sale of drugs on Google, they should be able to also block the distribution of illegal movie files, The New York Times and The Verge reported.

The MPAA has long argued that widespread online piracy is hurting filmmakers and destroying U.S. jobs.

Hood dismissed charges of any special alliance with the movie industry, telling National Journal that Google "is just spinning this story to try to prevent people from looking at what they have done." The Mississippi Democrat said he has been a longtime advocate of combating illegal activity online. While the movie studios were involved in some meetings, so were groups representing pharmaceutical companies and other industries, he said.

"This is what we do," he said. "If victims of intellectual property theft report to their attorneys general, we take action."

The revelations about Hollywood's campaign appear to have shattered a delicate ceasefire between the studios and Google.

In 2011, the movie studios lobbied aggressively for the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, which would have required Internet service providers, search engines, and advertisers to cut off access to sites "dedicated" to copyright infringement. Google fought back, warning that the bill would "break the Internet."

The bitter fight ended with a decisive victory for Google after a massive Web protest. The movie studios had to retreat and promise never to push similar legislation again.

While the MPAA has given up on SOPA-like legislation, the leaked emails appear to show that the group is trying to rely on existing laws to achieve the same goal of combating pirate websites.

—This article was updated with responses from the MPAA and the Mississippi attorney general.