Blind justice: Google lawsuit silences elected state prosecutor

Mountain View moneybags tip the scales

The lawsuit against Hood and what it means

In case readers of tech blogs were too stupid to miss the innuendo, Google counsel Kent Walker rammed the point home in a blog post on Thursday. Hood was cooking up a SOPA Mark 2. On Friday Google sued Jim Hood right back. (pdf) It requested a temporary restraining order on Hood. Google faced a "substantial threat of irreparable injury" if he continued.

Google is wealthy enough to buy Mississippi many times over, so Hood's response was pragmatic. He was being muzzled: but faced with a legal bill far beyond his budget, he and his team called for peace. He pledged to negotiate a settlement. Google's deep pockets (Hood points out it's worth $382bn) have purchased justice for it. There are several disturbing aspects to how Google conducted what looks like a public character assassination to achieve this – and some worrying consequences.

Obama ♥ Silicon Valley

The current US administration has been remarkably generous to Silicon Valley. Obama's administration treats Big Tech as generously as Bush's treated Big Oil. Google staffers can be found at all levels of this administration, and Google is a significant campaign funding contributor.

It's not just Google. The Department of Justice handed Amazon a very favourable settlement in its "price fixing" case against publishers. The order handed Amazon something very valuable: a retail monopoly (technically, a "monopsony").

The DoJ even apologised to Google, the WSJ reported, for the Rhode Island prosecutor's remark about Larry Page, as quoted above. “It ended up being so far off the reservation that the Justice Department apologized to Google for it and muzzled him," the paper noted.

Overall, Silicon Valley can be pleased with the results of its lobbying and funding, particularly over SOPA. SOPA targeted foreign rogue sites, but it wasn't replaced with "a better SOPA": the mob hysteria ensured that the USA is now terrified of going after foreign rogue sites in any way. So it remains as hard as ever for Americans to control their own words, pictures and music once they're fed into the gigantic data processing plantations at Google and Facebook. These companies now set the law.

The DCA and the MPAA groups have responded that SOPA is a red herring. The DCA points out it has "gone to bat" for Google when their trademarks and apps are being ripped off. You can choose whether to sympathise or not - but even if you don't, there are troubling questions raised by Google's aggressive conduct.

Leaving aside the tripwire conspiracy theorists who descend into a red mist at the letters "MPAA" (inevitably spelled "MAFFIA"), and these are minority, there will be many more people who don't sympathise with Hollywood at all, but will be disturbed by the success of a giant, wealthy corporation in silencing democratically-elected prosecutors and the consequences of giant corporations writing the rules. America's movie industry is a significant employer and it's entitled to use the law to protect itself, even if you don't agree with its methods.

Google's strategy appears intimidatory: any attempt to attack its economic interests in the Age of Google will be met with innuendo, smears and ultimately lawsuits that nobody can afford to fight. That's some "chilling effect".

My puzzle is, why do intelligent progressives unthinkingly sign up to this agenda? The consequences of Google's success in silencing Jim Hood are that corporate power cannot be restricted by one of democracy's main mechanisms for reining it in. Google and Facebook are increasingly resembling "suprastates" to whom national - and perhaps international - law doesn't apply. But if you think that replacing laws with a free-for-all leads to anything other than the strong crushing the weak, then I have a bridge to sell you.

Imagine the uproar at the headlines: "Goldman Sachs sues Eliot Spitzer", or "Microsoft sues to suppress further antitrust investigations". This dog doesn't seem to have barked. Yet, anyway. ®

Updated to add

The court threw out Google's claim that Mississippi was causing it "irreparable harm".

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