EXCLUSIVE: Internet sites on their SOPA-Strike may be conducting a blackout but Hollywood studios are conducting a boycott. I’ve learned that Hollywood studio chiefs individually and as a group are drawing a line in the sand on the piracy issue with the Obama re-election campaign and refusing to give any more donations. The blowup came after President Obama on Saturday dashed moguls’ hopes that he would remain on the sidelines in the dispute over the U.S. House Of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act and the U.S. Senate’s Protect IP Act. In a posting on the White House web site, three of the Obama administration’s top officials for Internet and intellectual property matters said that they share many of the concerns that the Internet community has about the Hollywood-supported bills. The trio said that they “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Special Assistant to the President Howard Schmidt tried to soften the blow to Hollywood by acknowledging that that online piracy is “a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response.” They added that they plan to host an online event “to get more input” on the matter. But Hollywood moguls told me they “didn’t know it was going to be as over the top as it was” and took this as a declaration of war. “We just feel very let down by the administration and Obama for not supporting us,” one studio chief explained to me. “At least let him remain neutral and not go against it until we can get the legislation right. But Obama went against it. I’m personally not going to support him anymore and not give a dime anymore,” another movie mogul who’s also a well-known Obama supporter told me this week.
So far the most outspoken mogul against the Obama administration on this issue has been Rupert Murdoch who on Saturday told his new Twitter audience: “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.” But I’ve learned that other moguls privately are having “direct and personal conversations” with Obama and his administration and the Democratic Party. Several moguls have informed Obama’s newly anointed Hollywood re-election liason to the entertainment community Nicole Avant and her husband who is helping her, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, that they are pulling out of major fundraisers planned over the next few days and won’t participate in any more headed by Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (whom they see as in the pocket of the Internet giants like Google).
One of those events is a major January 31st fundraiser attended by First Lady Michelle Obama at the Beverly Hills home of Avant and Sarandos. There’s another LA fundraiser for the First Lady on February 1st. And both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be coming for more fundraisers here in coming weeks. The moguls are telling Avant and Sarandos to count them out. “Now is when all the fundraises are starting. But everyone in my position is really pissed. It’s a real conundrum,” one mogul told me.
Alarmed by the mogul boycott, Sarandos sent a personal plea to the Hollywood studio chiefs over the weekend begging them to continue supporting the Obama re-election campaign even though he knows they are disappointed with the Obama administration’s position on the piracy bills. Several moguls, in response, “sent back word saying ‘Fuck You’ basically,” one insider tells me, expressing how they feel used and abused by the President despite their campaign contributions. I’ve learned that Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman Jim Gianopulos even sat down and wrote his good friend (and fellow Greek-American) Sarandos an articulate note over the weekend the gist of which said that he and his fellow moguls won’t give any more money if they keep getting taken for granted. One insider told me, “Jim explained that this notion that the Hollywood community will continue giving regardless of its business interests has to be taken into consideration. The message was, ‘Don’t expect Hollywood to show up and say ‘Who do I write the check to’ anymore.”
The moguls are reminding Obama et al that, in the words of one studio chief, “God knows how much money we’ve given to Obama and the Democrats and yet they’re not supporting our interests. There’s been no greater supporters of him than we’ve been from the first day and the first fundraisers continuing until he was elected. We all were pleased. And, at its heart institutionally, Hollywood supports the Democrats. Now we need the administration to support us. This is a very important time for Hollywood. The issue at hand — piracy — is a legitimate concern. But Google and those Internet guys have been swiftboating the entertainment industry by saying we’re trying to shut down the Internet just because we don’t want them to advertise pirated movies. As for other claims, we make 24. We don’t make national security problems.”
The boycott even extends to many of the moguls’ families who also are big Obama and Democratic Party donors. The situation is serious because many moguls and/or their families comprise Obama’s top bundlers in the TV/movie/music biz. Bundlers as defined by opensecrets.org are “people with friends in high places who, after bumping against personal contribution limits, turn to those friends, associates, and, well, anyone who’s willing to give, and deliver the checks to the candidate in one big ‘bundle’.” These donors direct more money to the candidates than anyone else. As of September 2011 these 357 elite bundlers were directing at least $55,900,000 for Obama’s re-election efforts — money that has gone into the coffers of his campaign as well as the Democratic National Committee, according to opensecrets.org. That figure by now has significantly increased and will continue to do so.