Google Meets The Pelican Brief


Sometimes, I find a story that is so weird and apparently unlikely that it can’t be real. But then, suddenly it is.

A few months ago, I read The New Jim Crow, which sets out a well substantiated case that the political right wing of America conspired to essentially jail our young men of color by the thousands as a way to keep the black population “in their place,” following the progress made through the civil rights movement. It’s a staggering story. A more recent and less wide scale story — but almost equally unlikely — has emerged around Google. And this time, Google is the victim. Here’s what appears to have happened:

The film industry hates movie piracy. It’s an entirely understandable position, and one they have been pursuing by all available means in recent years. They had placed a lot of hope in the Stop Online Piracy Act, which nearly made it into law a couple of years ago, but fell at the last fence when mighty Silicon Valley lobbyist (led by Google) convinced the Obama Administration that it would amount to far reaching and unprecedented censorship of all things online. The act would have made search engines, in some part, responsible for displaying pirated content in search results. Search engines understandably hated and feared this idea, as it would strip from them the safe harbor they had been enjoying since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protected them back in 1998.

I understand this is profoundly dull so far, but bear with me; this gets good. Having failed through the judicial process, the movie studios plotted (conspired is such a harsh word) to have various state Attorneys General file suit against Google, with the goal of tying them up in legal knots and making them so miserable that they remove their support from the anti SOPA campaigns, leaving them with the chance to get it reinstated at some point, perhaps under a Republican President.

It was nothing if not ambitious in scope and breadth, budgeting $500,000 per year to fund this process. They even suggested that News Corp (Fox) and NBC plant stories in the Wall Street Journal and the Today Show speculating on the likely impact these actions might have on Google’s stock price. Leading the charge for the bad guys was the AG for Mississippi.

Why Mississippi, you ask? Why not California, where movies are made? The neat wrinkle is that the tax climate in California is so hostile to business that it has allowed other states to offer tax breaks to encourage productions to move there. Mississippi has benefited enormously from these changes, so it makes perfect sense that they sign up to be the stalking horse for this process.

There are many twists and turns with which I won’t bore you, but Google has just filed additional documents in its case against Fox, NBC Universal and Viacom detailing an arsenal of smoking guns. The bad guys weren’t exactly successful in covering their tracks; it would be comical if it weren’t so revolting. The case continues…

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