Judge halts movie industry-backed probe against Google

A federal judge has agreed to put the brakes on an investigation into Google by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood after the company complained that Hood’s inquiry was an illegal censorship campaign cooked up by Hollywood.

In a Monday ruling, U.S. District Judge Henry T. Wingate issued an order that will temporarily bar Hood from forcing Google to comply with the terms of a 79-page subpoena.

“Today, a federal court entered a preliminary injunction against a subpoena issued by the Mississippi Attorney General. We’re pleased with the court’s ruling, which recognizes that the MPAA’s long-running campaign to censor the web—which started with SOPA—is contrary to federal law,” Google wrote in an update to an earlier blog post describing the case.

The ruling by Judge Wingate came from the bench, and a written version is expected to follow in the next week or two.

“Google has the better side of the legal arguments,” the judge told the court, according to a spokesperson for the company.

The ruling is a major victory for Google, which filed a lawsuit challenging Hood’s 79-page subpoena in December.

The ostensible goal of the subpoena is to help Hood discover if Google is violating Mississippi laws by exposing internet users to drugs and pornography. Google, however, filed a court challenge on the ground Hood overstepped federal laws that shield internet companies from liability for what others post online.

The case has also taken on an air of intrigue in light of a secret scheme, known as “Project Goliath,” that came to light as a result of the massive hack on Sony in December 2014.

Documents disclosed by the hack suggested that the Attorney General’s campaign against Google was being underwritten by the Motion Picture Association of American, and even involved movie industry lawyers drafting legal papers for the state. The company has characterized the state investigation as a dirty-tricks campaign by the movie industry to promote the goals of a failed anti-piracy law known as SOPA.

Hood has already come under fire for being among Democratic state attorneys general who appear to have been farming out the investigative powers of their offices to private law firms in return for a cut of the profits.

Monday’s ruling does not put an end to Mississippi’s investigation, but rather puts it on hold while the parties file more evidence. Hood has tried to frame his investigation as a populist campaign on behalf of the state’s citizens and argued that Google should pursue its claims of over-stepping in state, not federal court.