Google moved beyond being a simple internet search company long ago. It has its hands in a wide array of things these days, like driverless cars and changing the way people vote. But it’s Google’s initial search-bar mission that has the company in trouble with the Mississippi attorney general.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that Google had to answer a subpoena from Attorney General Jim Hood, who first subpoenaed the company back in 2014 for helping criminals find pirated music and illegal drugs. It’s just the latest development in Hood’s two-year mission to bring Google to court.
In October 2014, Hood issued a 79-page subpoena. Among other things, Hood wanted answers on if Google’s search engine helped people pirate music and whether the search autocomplete function nudged people toward illegal activities. So Google sued, claiming that the federal Communications Decency Act protected Google from what others posted or searched for on the internet and Hood’s subpoena violated the First Amendment.
A lower court ruled that Google was correct, and ruled that Hood couldn’t bring civil or criminal lawsuits against the company. But that lower court ruling is now moot.
“This injunction covers a fuzzily defined range of enforcement actions that do not appear imminent,” Judge Carl Stewart, a member of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, wrote. “We cannot on the present record predict what conduct Hood might one day try to prosecute under Mississippi law.”
Google and Hood would need to go to state court to battle it out under the appeals court ruling.
Hood’s motivation behind his actions is questionable. He has strong ties to the Motion Picture Association of America — a letter to Google was primarily drafted by MPAA affiliated law firm Jenner & Block — which might hint at why Hood had a sudden interest in search engines immediately after the government blocked a bill to stop search engines from linking to websites accused of piracy.
Google responded to the initial subpoena with a statement that “the state can no more tell a search engine what results to publish than it can tell a newspaper what editorials to run.”
The appeals court also ruled for Google’s case against Hood to be dismissed, but the company can sue again in the future.
Hopefully Google handles the subpoena better than it handled its terrible mic drop April Fool’s Day joke.