Court Sides With Mississippi Attorney General In Battle With Google

Siding against Google, a federal appellate court paved the way for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to resume investigating whether the company enables online copyright infringement.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted an order that prohibited Hood from trying to subpoena information related to online copyright infringement by companies that appear in Google's search results. The judges wrote that Google's request for an injunction against Hood was premature, given that the company went to court before Hood took steps to force Google to comply with the subpoena.

"This injunction covers a fuzzily defined range of enforcement actions that do not appear imminent," a three-judge panel wrote in a unanimous decision issued late last week. "We cannot on the present record predict what conduct Hood might one day try to prosecute under Mississippi law."

The appellate court directed U.S. District Court Judge Henry Wingate to dismiss Google's high-profile lawsuit. At the same time, they said they weren't expressing an opinion on whether Hood's 79-page subpoena, which sought "millions" of documents, was reasonable.

A Google spokesperson says the company is reviewing the implications of the decision.

Google sued Hood in December of 2014, shortly after emails disclosed in the Sony hack revealed Project Goliath -- a secret Hollywood-backed initiative to convince state attorneys general to target Google for allegedly enabling piracy.

Google sought a court order prohibiting Hood from bringing charges against the company, and from enforcing a subpoena demanding information related to outside companies -- including operators of sites that Google indexes in its search engine -- that allegedly play a role in copyright infringement.

Last March, Wingate said Google showed a “substantial likelihood” that its free speech rights were violated by Hood. Wingate wrote that Google's decisions about what to publish online were constitutionally protected, and that interfering with that judgment by threatening legal action “would likely produce a chilling effect on Google’s protected speech, thereby violating Google’s First Amendment rights.”

Wingate also wrote that Hood lacks authority to target Google for linking to sites that allegedly infringe copyright, because state attorneys general don't have jurisdiction over copyright infringement.

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