Last week, we wrote about how some of the leaked emails from the Sony hack revealed that the MPAA was funding and coordinating
various Attorneys General attacks on Google, even over topics that have nothing to do with copyright infringement. In response, Mississippi AG Jim Hood told the Huffington Post that he barely knows anyone at the MPAA
, and has no idea who their lawyers are -- and that the MPAA has "no major influence" on what he's working on:
Hood said the MPAA "has no major influence on my decision-making," although he noted that content creators occasionally provide reports and advice to him. "They're just reporting wrongdoing. There's nothing unusual about that," he said. Hood said he has never asked MPAA a legal question, isn't sure which lawyers they employ, and doesn't think he's ever met the organization's general counsel.
Okay. Now keep that above paragraph in mind as you read the latest report from the NY Times, in which reporters Nick Wingfield and Eric Lipton (who just a few months ago had written that big article on questionable lobbying of Attorneys General
) dig deeper into the Sony emails
concerning the MPAA and AGs Jim Hood and Jon Bruning from Nebraska. The Times also uses some public records requests to show that the infamous letter that Hood sent to Google was almost entirely written by the MPAA's lawyers
. You can see the whole thing at the link, but this thumbnail shows a pretty long letter with the only parts actually written by Hood's office being the intro at the top in green and a few minor word choices. All the rest came from the MPAA's lawyers at Jenner and Block.
So... Hood claims that he doesn't even know the MPAA's lawyers, that it has no influence on what he does and that the MPAA is "just reporting wrongdoing" -- but then he takes a ~4,000 word letter that those same MPAA lawyers (that he claims he doesn't know) wrote, tosses on an intro and a few minor grammatical corrections, and sends it to Google? The letter itself is a piece of pure propaganda as well, completely misrepresenting a few things, taking others out of context, and making some bizarre legal arguments. Hood, of course, is no stranger to controversy and claims of cronyism
, but this is taking things to another level.
The NY Times further uncovers that the "go-between" for the MPAA and Hood is a lobbyist the MPAA hired to run an MPAA front group. That lobbyist? Hood's predecessor and close friend:
The movie industry, through a nonprofit group it funded called Digital Citizens Alliance, picked the perfect lobbyist to squeeze Mr. Hood: Mike Moore. Mr. Moore was Mr. Hood’s predecessor as Mississippi attorney general and helped start Mr. Hood’s political career. He remains a close friend of the attorney general and travels with him frequently; he has even played a role in helping Mr. Hood get elected as the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, emails obtained by The Times show.
That front group, the "Digital Citizens Alliance," is one we discussed earlier this year, when it released a report about "evil" cyberlockers based on a misreading of two debunked studies
. Certain cyberlockers have demanded a retraction of the report because of its ridiculous and shoddy methodology. In other words, the Alliance is not exactly the most trustworthy of operations -- and it's hired Jim Hood's best buddy and political mentor. But Hood wants us to believe that this group has no influence on him?
Even other Attorneys General find the situation questionable:
Peggy Lautenschlager, who served as attorney general in Wisconsin, said that the role that the movie industry had played in pushing Mr. Hood, through Mr. Moore and others, was inappropriate. “A private interest is influencing some attorneys general’s offices,” she said.
Meanwhile, others are trying to understand why Jim Hood is so close with the MPAA at all, since Mississippi doesn't even have much of a connection to the film business
That makes his behavior all the more unusual since Mississippi has almost no economic interest in the movie industry. Indeed, the state lacks a major film school, doesn’t house production for a single scripted TV show, and has served as the main shooting location for only 5 widely released movies over the past decade. The MPAA itself says that the state has a total of 242 film-and-television-production related jobs; one of the smallest per-capita totals in the nation. All-in-all Mississippi has more people who make their living arranging flowers (460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ databases) than in film and TV production. Maybe Jim Hood really likes hanging out with movie moguls?
Hood's stated reasoning makes even less sense:
"Google's not a government, they may think they are, but they don't owe anyone a First Amendment right," Hood told The Huffington Post. "If you're an illegal site, you ought to clean up your act, instead of Google making money off it."
Hood recalled a meeting in Boston, where a high school girl demonstrated to attorneys general how easy it was for her to find a violent version of "Django Unchained" on the Internet. "Some of the AGs were amazed at that real-time example of what Google is assisting," Hood said.
Hood has "tried to get Google to delist several sites," relating to pharmaceuticals. He said he views movies and music piracy as "insignificant" to state prosecutors, compared with more serious types of crime. But Hood said he would support a nonprofit organization coming up with a list of piracy sites that Google would remove from search results. He argued that current copyright law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, isn't adequate, because a website can get millions of takedown notices, but still do business as usual.
It appears Hood is quite confused about, well, nearly everything. No, Google doesn't "owe anyone" a First Amendment right, but the government does. And here it appears that Hood -- a government representative -- is flat out supporting a censorship list of websites that must be blocked. Furthermore, he doesn't seem to understand the difference between a search engine and actually hosting or uploading infringing content. He also doesn't seem to recognize the history of blacklists and the fact that they always
over-censor. Nor does he seem to understand how Google functions. All of these things would be rather easy to find out -- but just as easy to ignore if the MPAA is the one giving you all your talking points and legal documents.
Meanwhile, the original letters revealed that the MPAA was looking for other Attorneys General it could convince to get in on the game, and the NY Times notes that a clear target is Nebraska's Jon Bruning:
The movie association and its member companies, the messages show, have assigned a team of lawyers to prepare draft subpoenas and legal briefs for the attorneys general. And the groups have delivered campaign contributions — with several movie studios sending checks — to Jon Bruning, the Republican attorney general of Nebraska, who was helping push their cause, and who made an unsuccessful bid for governor this year.
Meanwhile, the reaction to all of this has been fascinating. I've seen multiple lawyers connected to Hollywood have kneejerk reactions that paying for an investigation, coordinating all of the efforts including writing up the letters and subpoenas, is just normal, everyday "aggressive competition." Yet, these are the same people who go out there and claim that you sharing a copy of a movie you liked with someone else is morally bankrupt and evil. Some people, it seems, have a different moral compass. Frankly, private companies financing government investigations of other private companies seems a hell of a lot more morally questionable than someone sharing a copy of a film they like.