For someone who clearly doesn’t like Hollywood, Emily Hong, policy wonk for New America’s Open Technology Institute*, is determined to pitch an over-the-top narrative about AG Hood v Google that is so divorced from reality that I don’t think Luis Buñel would know what to make of it. Reposted on Slate, her title and basic plot, which portrays Google as underdog — fighting not only for itself but for the sanctity of the Internet — against the juggernaut of the MPAA in cahoots with states attorneys general, begs the audience to suspend not only disbelief, but the verifiable evidence that Google’s reach into government is greater by orders of magnitude than several other whole industries. So much so, that when faced with indictment in 2011 by the DOJ for its role in illegal pharmaceutical trafficking, the corporate executives of Google were able to buy themselves a non-prosecutorial settlement for the meager sum of a half billion dollars. Thus, the focus of AG Hood’s recent investigation had been to confirm whether or not Google was in compliance with that settlement — i.e. that the company was not still knowingly profiting from illegal trade.
That the MPAA would have an interest in this investigation is no surprise, even though copyright infringement was among the least of AG Hood’s concerns. Still, ever since the release of emails leaked during the Sony hack, Google and its translucent PR network have attempted to spin the intent of Hood’s investigation — which 39 other AGs have now joined — into a conspiracy story in which the MPAA was effectively calling the shots and using the AG as a puppet to pursue the studios’ interests. Meanwhile, it should be noted that Google does not deny that the company plays a role in mass infringement (and even monetizes it), but that any measures it might take to mitigate the problem would unavoidably lead to a “less open” Internet. And so, like any good/bad movie plot of this nature, why do the conspiratorial MPAA want AG Hood to pursue Google? To take over the world, of course. Only in this case, it’s more like take over the Internet in order to censor it. Thus, in an homage to B-movie villains everywhere, Hong writes:
“Beyond its melodrama, Google v. Hood also embodies a deeper ideological clash that persists between those who believe that Internet content must now be technologically and legally controlled and those who argue that it remain as open as possible in the service of free expression. Organizations like the MPAA and its analogue in the music industry, the Recording Industry Association of America, advocate for strict control, while technology companies (many of whom are the online intermediaries who would likely bear the costs of any control regime) and civil liberties activists want to preserve an unhindered atmosphere.”
Believe what you want about the players, their actions, and their motives. The details and misrepresentations are so out of proportion now, it’s futile to even go there. For the sake of argument, then, let’s assume companies are companies, all morally or amorally equal, if you will. Yes, the motion picture industry would like to curb piracy; and yes, Google would like to avoid taking responsibility (financial or otherwise) for its role in the problem. That’s business. We get that. But the idea that the story of Hood v Google is an epic tale of good vs evil — about the forces of openness vs the forces of censorship — is preposterous.
When Google ponied up its half-billion-dollar settlement and, in theory, stopped advertising against illegal drug trafficking, did you feel a chill in your right of free speech? Or when millions of Americans applauded Reddit for its recent ban of the racist subreddit CoonTown, did you sense so much as a cool breeze warning you not to speak your mind on Facebook or Twitter, or to search for some news item somewhere on the Web? And while an “open Internet” sounds like a good thing, it should not be taken as gospel that whatever puts an onus on Google will “close” the Internet. To the contrary, we have seen in recent months both litigation and policy decisions in the U.S. and abroad, which demonstrate that Google and others can be forced to mitigate harm or conform to anti-trust regulations without affecting our rights in the slightest. In fact, for the moment, I feel entirely free to say that I believe this narrative Google and writers like Emily Hong keep spinning is complete bullshit. And I have to wonder if that freedom is honestly best served by just letting Google do whatever it wants with complete immunity.
*As stated in the article this organization includes Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt on its board.