- - Friday, September 4, 2015

A public official is attempting to control what people can search for, stream and distribute online. Shockingly, this assault on individual liberty and online freedom isn’t taking place in North Korea, China, Russia, Cuba or Iran. It’s happening in Mississippi – right here, in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Mississippi’s Attorney General Jim Hood has been quietly trying to position himself as judge and jury of what people are allowed to do on the Internet.

Mr. Hood has asked Google to turn over countless documents about its search engine, citing that Google has knowingly helped and profited from the sales of illegal drugs, pornography and other materials in an attempt to scare the search engine giant from operating in the state.

In short, Mr. Hood apparently believes Google is responsible for everything and anything a third-party user or advertiser does online. And unless Google answers the state’s request, the company faces the threat of legal action.

Mr. Hood is serving as a puppet for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a powerful Washington-based trade association and lobbying group that represents Hollywood’s largest movie studios. The MPAA’s campaign in Mississippi is the latest in a string of covert attempts to achieve through the states what they could not with controversial “anti-piracy” legislation at the national level.

Apparently the organization believes that by censoring or even killing search engines, social media outlets and other websites, fewer people will steal movies.

Commercial piracy is wrong and illegal, but appropriate laws are already on the books that prosecute violators for ripping off the intellectual property of movie studios, music labels and other content creators and owners.

Instead of working to make sure law enforcement properly administers existing laws, the MPAA created astroturf campaigns and released misleading studies in an embarrassing attempt to blame Internet platforms for consumer infringement of online content. The group sought to make Internet intermediaries ranging from billion-dollar corporations like Google and Facebook, to thousands of small Internet hosting companies legally accountable for a user’s activities online.

The MPAA first attempted to ram through federal anti-piracy legislative efforts were known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Internet Privacy Act (PIPA). The proposals proved about as popular as a Mel Gibson film in a Jewish neighborhood theater. Congress ditched the two pieces of legislation in 2012 after massive public outcry – including an “Internet Blackout” – over what would have amounted to broad censorship of the Internet.

Once Internet users, well-known websites and, ultimately, Congress roundly rejected the MPAA’s attempt to pass national legislation to censor the Internet, the lobbying outfit turned to the states. Mississippi’s Mr. Hood turned out to be the first state official to buy into the MPAA’s dictatorial scheme to control the Internet hook, line and sinker.

It’s not just speculation that Mr. Hood was in cahoots with the MPAA. Documents published by WikiLeaks clearly show the movie industry’s coordinated campaign to use Mr. Hood’s authority as attorney general to bully Google.

Records prove the MPAA drafted the pleadings filed by the attorney general against Google. In an acting performance worthy of an Oscar, Mr. Hood even claimed he doesn’t know who authored his subpoenas.

It appears the MPAA and the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office took their sleazy efforts further still by collaborating on a secret “dirty tricks” campaign to attack Google. Mr. Hood and the MPAA even developed a plan to drive down Google’s stock by planting unflattering press stories and considered making think tanks paid gunslingers, bribing them to produce damaging studies.

Three tech industry organizations, the Consumer Electronics Association, the Computer and Communications Industry Association and Engine, filed an amicus brief supporting Google in its efforts to end Hood’s harassment-by-subpoena. The brief rebukes the MPAA for cozying up to a state’s attorney general in an attempt “to direct harassing and abusive legal process at other legitimate businesses.”

The brief also states something all red-blooded Americans can agree with: “No public official should have the discretion to filter the Internet.”

A federal judge recently determined that Mr. Hood’s MPAA-aided attacks against Internet freedom went too far. Still, Mr. Hood appears willing to go forth with his efforts to dictate what people can do online.

Worse, the MPAA continues to search for other state attorneys general willing to join in its quest to pester search engines, social media sites and other Internet intermediaries with bogus legal action until the Internet as we know it is gone.

State attorneys general, as well as governors and state lawmakers, must bravely stand up against the MPAA’s efforts to censor and stifle the Internet. Unless states follow Congress’ brave lead, our freedom of speech online will always be in jeopardy.

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