Mississippi AG Appeals Order Blocking Google Investigation

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has appealed an injunction that temporarily prohibits him from demanding information from Google related to copyright infringement by outside companies.

The order, issued earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate in Jackson, Miss., effectively prohibits Hood from continuing with his long-running investigation of Google until at least July.

Wingate's order also allows Google to subpoena documents from Hood related to his decision to investigate the company. On Monday, Hood's office asked Wingate to stay that portion of his order.

“Given the issues at play, the appellate court’s ruling potentially could remove the very staples pinning together Google’s lawsuit,” Hood argues in his latest papers. “Without a stay, the Court and the parties will expend significant time and energy determining the proper management of this action going forward.”

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Mississippi's top law enforcement official added that his office entered into talks with Google earlier this month, but that those efforts stalled. “While settlement negotiations started on the right track, sufficient headway was not made to bring this matter to an agreed end,” Hood says in court papers.

Hood's appeal comes one week after Google served his office with subpoenas for documents from the Motion Picture Association of America, Viacom, Fox, NBC Universal, the law firm Jenner & Block, and the organization Digital Citizens Alliance. Much of the information Google is seeking relates to “Project Goliath” -- a Hollywood-backed initiative that reportedly involves persuading state law enforcement officials to combat online copyright infringement.

Project Goliath came to light late last year, as a result of last year's Sony hack. The MPAA reportedly budgeted $500,000 a year toward hiring the law firm Jenner & Block, which offered legal assistance to state attorneys general who targeted Google, including Hood.

Soon after details about the initiative emerged in the press, Google sought an injunction prohibiting Hood from enforcing a subpoena for documents. The company argued that the federal Communications Decency Act protects intermediaries from liability for illegal content created by other companies.

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

The battle has drawn 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.

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 statements on its site regarding copyright infringement. “Google represents to consumers that it demotes pirated content,” the anti-piracy group argued. “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.”

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