Google angered by leaked emails indicating the MPAA wants to resurrect SOPA

19 Dec 2014

David and Goliath fresco in Regensburg, Germany. Photo by InnaFelker /

Google has expressed deep concern over leaked documents indicating the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is co-ordinating efforts to reignite its campaign to stop online piracy.

In a post on the Google Public Policy Blog, Google SVP and general counsel Kent Walker referred to reports from The Verge, The New York Times and The Huffington Post, which indicate that a new SOPA could be rising.

On 12 December, The Verge reported on ‘Project Goliath’, a movement revealed through emails released online following the now-infamous Sony Pictures hack by the Guardians of Peace (believed to be a hacking group from North Korea).

These emails reveal that lawyers from the MPAA and six major studios – Universal, Sony, Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros. and Disney – were very concerned about a ‘Goliath’, who they discuss a chief enemy in the stamping out of online piracy.

MPAA vs Goliath

Delving further into these emails, a number of references suggest that ‘Goliath’ is indeed Google, and that this MPAA-led cohort was plotting to take aim with their sling.

The documents obtained by The Verge reveal a plan to attack piracy by working with state attorneys general and major ISPs and to expand legislative power over the way online data is served, which would be in contravention of the currently open nature of the internet.

Part of this strategy involved lobbying state prosecutors to convince them to join the fight against ‘Goliath’. A budget of US$50,000 a year was suggested to provide legal support for this campaign.

It was then reported by The New York Times that a letter sent to Google and signed by Mississippi state attorney general Jim Hood was actually drafted by an attorney at Jenner & Block, the MPAA’s law firm. The Times published the letter in full, identifying minimal edits made by Hood before sending on to Google.

Hood proceeded then to send Google a 79-page subpoena, which Google claims the MPAA knew about before they did.

“We of course have serious legal concerns about all of this,” Walker concluded.

SOPA seen as censorship

SOPA, or the Stop Online Privacy Act, was proposed in 2011 but an online campaign saw it defeated before it came into effect. The act, which was supported by the MPAA, would have brought in site-blocking measures that many believed amounted to censorship of the web.

On 18 January, 115,000 – including Google – websites joined the protest. The internet went on strike and US Congress received over 8m phone calls, 4m emails and 10m petition signatures in one day.

MPAA responds

In response Walker’s blog post, Hood denied Google’s claims to CNET and added, “We’re just saying that if a website has 90pc illegal material, they shouldn’t put them in search results. We’ve been working on these issues for years, and Google full well knows that.”

The MPAA has also responded, calling the blog post “a transparent attempt to deflect focus from [Google’s] own conduct and to shift attention from legitimate and important ongoing investigations by state attorneys general into the role of Google Search in enabling and facilitating illegal conduct – including illicit drug purchases, human trafficking and fraudulent documents as well as theft of intellectual property.”

The MPAA added that it will continue to seek the assistance of any and all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, to protect the rights of all involved in creative activities.

David and Goliath image by InnaFelker via Shutterstock

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.