Google accuses Hollywood of 'trying to censor the Internet'

Using information from alleged documents leaked by the Sony hackers, Google said the Motion Picture Association of America and Mississippi's attorney general conspired to limit free speech on the Internet.

Seth Rosenblatt Former Senior Writer / News
Senior writer Seth Rosenblatt covered Google and security for CNET News, with occasional forays into tech and pop culture. Formerly a CNET Reviews senior editor for software, he has written about nearly every category of software and app available.
Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Seth Rosenblatt
Ian Sherr
3 min read

Protesters gathered to protest Internet censorship in 2012.

Google on Thursday attacked Hollywood and a state attorney general for attempting to achieve the goals of years-old Internet censorship law.

The search giant said the Motion Picture Association of America -- Hollywood's primary lobbying arm --- secretly conspired with the attorney general of Mississippi to force changes to the trade of information on the Internet without enacting new laws.

"The MPAA pointed its guns at Google," the company's General Counsel Kent Walker said in a blog post Thursday. He cited emails reported to have come from Sony's top executives by The Verge, detailing an effort to block websites alleged to publish copyrighted material. Walker also said that a letter sent by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood accusing Google of numerous misdeeds was drafted by the MPAA's longtime law firm.

Hood said he had worked with the MPAA but disagreed with Google's assertions. He said he's worked with Internet companies on a wide range of issues, including international counterfeit rings, drug trafficking and child pornography. "We're just saying that if a website has 90 percent illegal material, they shouldn't put them in search results," he said. "We've been working on these issues for years, and Google full well knows that."

The MPAA slammed Google's position as "shameful."

"Google's blog post today is a transparent attempt to deflect focus from its 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," an MPAA representative said in a statement. "We will seek the assistance of any and all government agencies, whether federal, state or local, to protect the rights of all involved in creative activities."

Representatives for Google and Sony didn't respond to requests for comment.

The move marks a turning point in the ongoing battle over Internet censorship, which led to protests across the Web in 2012. Two bills before the US Congress in particular, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), attempted to target "rogue" websites illegally displaying copyrighted content. But critics said the bills could adversely affect legitimate sites as well. SOPA and PIPA legislation had been thought to have been abandoned by their proponents, but Google's claims indicates it may have been revived.

Google's comments also add to the fallout over the hacking of Sony. For the past two weeks, hackers who broke into the company's computer systems and claimed to have stolen troves of employee information, including executive's emails. Many of those documents have since been released online.

Sony has only confirmed the veracity of a few documents that have surfaced. Others companies, however, are starting to come forward. Snapchat released a statement saying it was "devastated" over the stolen information on Wednesday. Now, Google has criticized Sony, the MPAA and others for their alleged actions, which were revealed in the documents.

Sony hasn't responded to Google's accusations. It also didn't respond to the December 12 report from The Verge about its alleged activities with the MPAA.

Update, 5:47 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Jim Hood. And 8:45 p.m. with MPAA comment.