CEA Files Amicus Brief Opposing AG Hood’s Attack on Online Platforms
In a case involving whether a state attorney general can exert discretional control over search, streaming and content distribution online, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)®, the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and Engine have supported online platforms and intermediaries such as Google in arguing that state officials do not have the discretion to dictate free expression on the Internet.
In an amicus brief filed Friday, CEA, CCIA and Engine are backing Google’s request for a preliminary injunction against Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s crushingly-broad subpoena and his threat to bring legal action unless Google removes all links to content that the attorney general finds objectionable. The threat extends not only to Google’s search engine, but also to its advertising platforms and YouTube. Google is asking the federal court to enjoin the attorney general from demanding information, and threatening suit, related to conduct that is clearly lawful as a matter of federal law.
“The Internet is a powerful vehicle of free expression, and platforms like Google are among the most robust and innovative growth sectors of the U.S. economy,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO, CEA. “Their success is enabled in part by federal laws and court decisions that guarantee online platforms immunity from the conduct of their users.”
The brief argues that based on federal law, Internet companies are not liable for content published by third-party users. There is no legal impediment to the court considering Google’s motion for preliminary injunction. More, the brief argues, there are sound policy reasons to reject Attorney General Hood’s motion to dismiss this case, including the unconstitutionality of Hood’s actions, the lack of any law mandating that the Internet be completely free from material some may find offensive, Google’s reasonable efforts to police third-party content and the crippling effect enforcement of this subpoena would have on the free flow of protected material.
Policymakers and the American public have thoroughly rebuffed attempts to impose greater liability on Internet companies for the actions of others. In 2012, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) were rejected by Congress after millions of Americans contacted their legislators in protest.
Attorney General Hood’s assault on the Internet stems from a covertly orchestrated and financed campaign by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), aimed at imposing SOPA-style, speech-chilling regulations via the states. Sadly, this occurs at the same time the MPAA should be focused on preserving the letter and spirit of the First Amendment, and protecting American filmmakers’ ability to produce politically-relevant movies.
The MPAA and Attorney General Hood claim Google hasn’t done enough to fight piracy, but to date Google has removed more than 16 million URLs from its search results, and in October took its anti-piracy efforts a step further by down-ranking popular pirating websites and removing terms associated with piracy from the autocomplete search feature.
“Despite this progress, MPAA is again using its legacy influence to expand its power over online content search and hosting,” stated Shapiro. “The association lost its public battle for control of the web in 2012, when Internet users, service providers, content creators, librarians, cybersecurity experts, academics and journalists overwhelmingly rejected SOPA and PIPA legislation. After failing to achieve web control in a transparent way, MPAA is embracing an opaque strategy of empowering state attorneys general, including Mississippi’s Jim Hood. These trustees of the public good shouldn’t allow themselves to be tools for promoting one of the least popular proposals in the history of U.S. Internet policy.”
Essentially, the MPAA is asking state attorneys general to pre-clear content on the Internet. If successful, the MPAA’s initiative would lead to a balkanized marketplace where content acceptable in one state would be banned in neighboring jurisdictions. In addition to violating the First Amendment, this business strategy is bizarre and self-defeating given the importance of free expression to the creative community. We urge the MPAA to cease its ill-advised censorship and litigation strategy, and embrace the Internet as an extraordinary distribution platform for studios and creators.
To view the amicus brief, click here.
The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is the technology trade association representing the $223 billion U.S. consumer electronics industry. More than 2,000 companies enjoy the benefits of CEA membership, including legislative and regulatory advocacy, market research, technical training and education, industry promotion, standards development and the fostering of business and strategic relationships. CEA also owns and produces the International CES – The Global Stage for Innovation. All profits from CES are reinvested into CEA’s industry services. Find CEA online at CE.org, DeclareInnovation.com and through social media.
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