Google Wins Reprieve From Miss. AG's Investigation

Siding with Google, a federal judge has temporarily prohibited Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood from following enforcing a subpoena for “millions” of documents relating to illegal activity by outside companies.

The preliminary injunction, issued on Monday by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate in Jackson, Miss., effectively stays Hood's investigation for at least the next four months. Wingate issued the order from the bench on Monday, court personnel told Online Media Daily. A written version of the decision wasn't available as of Monday afternoon.

The ruling grows out of a dispute that landed in court late last year, when Google sought a court order prohibiting Hood from enforcing a subpoena for “millions” of documents relating to copyright infringement and other illegal conduct by third parties -- including companies indexed in Google's search results.



Google, which had been in talks with Hood for many months, filed court papers several days after documents released in the Sony hack revealed that a lawyer for the Motion Picture Association of America drafted some of Hood's demands.

The company argued that the federal Communications Decency Act protects intermediaries that make available content created by others. The company said in court papers that Hood has spent nearly two years pressuring it to “remove third-party content he disfavors from its search engine and YouTube video-sharing service.”

Hood countered that he's investigating whether Google has violated Mississippi's consumer protection law, which prohibits businesses from engaging in deceptive and unfair trade practices. Hood contended that the material he requested “is directly related” to discovering whether Google violated the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act.

The battle drew interest from numerous industry observers, outside advocacy groups and law enforcement officials. The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation and trade association Internet Commerce Coalition -- made up of broadband providers and ecommerce companies -- were among the organizations to weigh in on Google's side. The latter argued in a friend-of-the-court brief that its members “built their businesses in reliance on the fact that there is a single national law” covering copyright infringement allegations.

Hood drew support from groups including an anti-piracy organization, which argued that Google isn't protected by the Communications Decency Act for material it creates -- including its own ads, as well as its statements to consumers. “Google represents to consumers that it demotes pirated content ... But even the limited evidence available without investigation suggests that Google’s claims about demotion of pirated content may not be accurate in at least some cases,” the group argued.

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