Thursday, December 18, 2014
We are deeply concerned about recent reports that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) led a secret, coordinated campaign to revive the failed SOPA legislation through other means, and helped manufacture legal arguments in connection with an investigation by Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood.
Almost three years ago, millions of Americans helped stop a piece of congressional legislation—supported by the MPAA—called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). If passed, SOPA would have led to censorship across the web. No wonder that 115,000 websites—including Google—participated in a protest, and over the course of a single day, Congress received more than 8 million phone calls and 4 million emails, as well as getting 10 million petition signatures.
Here is what recent press reports have revealed over the past few days about the MPAA’s campaign:
The MPAA conspired to achieve SOPA’s goals through non-legislative means
According to The Verge, “at the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios … joined together to begin a new campaign” to figure how it could secretly revive SOPA. It “joined together to begin a new campaign” to achieve wholesale site-blocking by “[convincing] state prosecutors to take up the fight against [Google].” The movie studios “budgeted $500,000 a year towards providing legal support”—and the MPAA later sought up to $1.175 million for this campaign.
The MPAA pointed its guns at Google
With that money, the MPAA then hired its long-time law firm Jenner & Block to go after Google while also funding an astroturf group—the Digital Citizens Alliance—with the same goal of attacking Google. (Source: The New York Times).
The MPAA did the legal legwork for the Mississippi State Attorney General
The MPAA then pitched Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood, an admitted SOPA supporter, and Attorney General Hood sent Google a letter making numerous accusations about the company. The letter was signed by General Hood but was actually drafted by an attorney at Jenner & Block—the MPAA’s law firm. As the New York Times has reported, the letter was only minimally edited by the state Attorney General before he signed it. Here is what the document showed about its true origin:
We've redacted the name of the attorney to protect her privacy
Even though Google takes industry-leading measures in dealing with problematic content on our services, Attorney General Hood proceeded to send Google a sweeping 79-page subpoena, covering a variety of topics over which he lacks jurisdiction. The Verge reported that the MPAA and its members discussed such subpoenas and certainly knew about this subpoena’s existence before it was even sent to Google.
Attorney General Hood told the Huffington Post earlier this week that the MPAA "has no major influence on my decision-making,” and that he “has never asked [the] MPAA a legal question” and “isn't sure which lawyers they employ.” And yet today the Huffington Post and the Verge revealed that Attorney General Hood had numerous conversations with both MPAA staff and Jenner & Block attorneys about this matter.
While we of course have serious legal concerns about all of this, one disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part “to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists' right to free expression.” Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?