Dec 19, 2014 · 2 minutes

The Motion Pictures Association of America wants to implement some aspects of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act of 2011, and it's enlisting the help of state-level lawmakers to do so, according to numerous reports about the association's efforts.

Internet advocates fought SOPA aggressively when it was revealed in 2011. Websites like Reddit, Wikipedia, and Google "went dark" to raise awareness for the issue. Activists argued that the law would lay the groundwork for digital censorship and harm the Internet. SOPA was eventually defeated, and many celebrated the over-reaching bill's demise.

So it's only natural for some of those same advocates to criticize the MPAA for trying to secretly recreate SOPA with the aid of film studios like Sony Pictures Entertainment, a New York law firm, and Mississippi State Attorney General Jim Hood, among others. And that's exactly what Google's general counsel, Kent Walker, did in a recent blog post.

"While we of course have serious legal concerns about all of this, one disappointing part of this story is what this all means for the MPAA itself, an organization founded in part 'to promote and defend the First Amendment and artists' right to free expression,'" he wrote on the Public Policy blog. "Why, then, is it trying to secretly censor the Internet?"

Now the MPAA has responded to Walker's complaints. A spokesperson told the Verge:

Google's effort to position itself as a defender of free speech is shameful. Freedom of speech should never be used as a shield for unlawful activities and the internet is not a license to steal. Google's blog post today is a transparent attempt to deflect focus from its own conduct and to shift attention from legitimate and important ongoing investigations by state attorneys general into the role of Google Search in enabling and facilitating illegal conduct — including illicit drug purchases, human trafficking and fraudulent documents as well as theft of intellectual property.
The statement is typical for large groups -- governments included -- seeking to further their own agendas. Notice how the spokesperson saved mention of piracy for last, after drug-dealing, human trafficking, and other, more heinous crimes. That's because it's harder to argue against regulating the Internet when the first two issues are involved.

It's not much different from the FBI's argument that tech companies shouldn't be allowed to encrypt their customers' communications because it can help child molesters and terrorists evade law enforcement. The vast majority of the people whose messages are encrypted aren't abusing kids or planning terrorist attacks. But when authorities use these nefarious activities as the face of the argument, it's hard to disagree with the Bureau.

Consider too arguments from Republican Senators that curbing National Security Agency surveillance could allow terrorists to attack the United States. It's been shown time and again that the agency's programs haven't stopped terrorist attacks, but the threat of another attack on US soil is enough to help lawmakers win any argument they enter.

Here's a thought: if your organization has to resort to the same tactics used to justify the warrantless spying on millions of people or efforts to undo some of the most significant security updates in recent history, you're probably making the wrong argument. The MPAA might not realize that, but anyone who hears its rhetoric should keep it in mind.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]