Recently leaked emails shed light on how Hollywood is working with state attorneys general to try and push anti-piracy policies that are largely unpopular with the American public.
Culture and tech news site The Verge recently reported that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has made efforts to revive principles from the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a controversial anti-piracy bill that Congress killed in 2012 following widespread objection. SOPA would have allowed the government to block some website domains, and to delist from search engines sites repeatedly accused of piracy.
MPAA's anti-piracy strategy, based on emails released as part of last month's extensive Sony hack, appeared to involve working with state attorneys general to target "Goliath" -- believed to be a reference to Google, a major opponent of SOPA.
Emails obtained by The Huffington Post show that in January, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (D), president of the National Association of Attorneys General, called a lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Hood was looking for evidence of Google search results leading people to websites with pirated content -- evidence that he hoped to have on hand for an upcoming meeting with the search giant. Besides speaking with the lobbyist, Hood also worked with an outside counsel for the MPAA, a lawyer named Tom Perrelli, who prepped him and other state AGs on what to say during their meeting with Google.
The leaked documents offer a look at how private industries may offer crime-fighting services to resource-strapped AGs, while at the same time pushing policies of their own. For example, Hood said he wan't aware that he was consulting with a lawyer who works with the MPAA on intellectual property issues. He added that he wouldn't find that problematic, if that was indeed the case.
Hood told The Huffington Post that Perrelli has offered to assist his office in its efforts to get search engines to "detect and delist" websites with illegal content and products. He said he did not know that Perrelli is a partner at Jenner & Block, a law firm retained by the MPAA.
"I could not tell you which law firm he works for now," Hood said, adding that he is "not aware" of the relationship between Jenner & Block and the MPAA. He said that he knows Perrelli from his time at the U.S. Department of Justice and that he "can attest to [Perrelli's] trustworthiness and expertise in legal matters."
Perrelli did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Kate Bedingfield, a spokesperson for the MPAA, told HuffPost in an email that "when wrongdoing is taking place online, we work with and support appropriate law enforcement officials, including the Attorneys General, as do many other industries.”
Documents obtained by The Verge show that Hollywood is looking to revive controversial parts of SOPA to fight piracy, and is concerned that Google may oppose its efforts. The film industry has looked to a variety of politicians and political vehicles to fight that battle.
On Tuesday, The New York Times published a letter that Hood sent Google in November 2013, accusing the company of facilitating and profiting "from numerous illegal online activities, ranging from piracy to illegal drug sales."
The letter appeared to be mostly drafted by Jenner & Block, according to the NYT. Hood confirmed to HuffPost that Perrelli was one person who helped draft that letter.
According to other leaked documents, on January 16 of this year, Vans Stevenson, senior vice president for state government affairs at the MPAA, sent an email titled "STATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL PROJECT: Update on AG Denver Meeting With Google Executives" to representatives from the Recording Industry Association of America and others. The email listed 14 AGs and deputy or assistant AGs who were scheduled to attend that meeting.
In that email, Stevenson wrote: "General Hood called me last night and asked that we provide fresh examples for his planned live 'search' demonstration of illegal site activity, including the availability of motion pictures only in theatrical release, which we are working on with our outside counsel Tom Perrelli’s team."
On January 21, Stevenson sent around a note from Perrelli, who wrote that he had "multiple meetings tonight with AGs and AG staffs to prepare them for the Google meeting tomorrow," and noted that "the AGs are going to start the meeting by saying that they are frustrated that Google has not acted."
Perrelli also wrote: "I spent more time with Hood after the meeting and, I hope, got him focused on the key issues and the asks. He really does care a great deal about piracy ... He wants Google to delist pirate sites and he is going to ask them to do that tomorrow."
Google declined to comment for this story.
Hood, who told HuffPost he had received assistance from the MPAA but never asked the group any legal questions, noted that Stevenson "is not an attorney, so I would not have sought legal advice from him." He added, "As I said several times, we frequently ask the companies who report intellectual property theft to assist our office in identifying counterfeit items and evidence of how their property is being stolen."
"We use the expertise that we can," he added. "[We've] got nothing to hide."
Bill Allison, editorial director at the Sunlight Foundation, took a different view, calling Hood's cooperation with the MPAA "hugely problematic."
"You have [industries] that can't get what they want done in Washington going to the state level, where [they] can get away with a lot more," he said.
UPDATE, 5:45 p.m. -- Google general counsel Kent Walker published a statement at the company's Public Policy Blog on Thursday, in response to press coverage by The Verge, The New York Times and The Huffington Post. The statement read in part:
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.
Read the full statement here.