Payback: Did SOPA cost Obama Hollywood donors?

Some movie moguls reportedly feel betrayed over Obama's SOPA stance and plan to withhold donations for his re-election campaign.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
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Depending on where you stand, President Obama either showed tremendous courage when he distanced himself from SOPA and PIPA--or a complete lack of it.

Last Saturday, the White House announced it would not support important provisions of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, the anti-piracy bills being debated in the House and Senate. The legislation would make it easier for the federal government to block access to overseas sites accused of piracy. Much of the tech sector opposes the bills.

Where Hollywood is concerned, though, the president's stand is nothing short of a betrayal. And in retribution, some film and music moguls have reportedly threatened to cut off financial support for Obama's re-election campaign, according to Deadline.com.

Nikki Finke, one of the most tuned-in reporters covering Hollywood, wrote yesterday:

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.

Obama's re-election camp didn't responded to interview requests.

Leaders in the entertainment industries are traditionally big-time donors to Democratic candidates and causes. But they're now sore about Obama's supposed broken promises, my Hollywood sources say.

Up until Saturday, the entertainment industry was confident that the White House had its back. The president and vice president have repeatedly denounced piracy and promised to help crack down on illegal file sharing and storage lockers.

Vice President Joe Biden has gone on record saying he doesn't see much difference between illegal file sharing and theft.

"Piracy is theft, clean and simple," Biden told reporters during a 2010 press conference to outline the administration's plan to protect the country's intellectual property. "It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]."

That kind of statement comforted many of those on the anti-piracy front lines. Now, though, the same people are asking where the president was when the chips were down. Why didn't Obama just quietly inform supporters of his concerns about the bills a long time ago instead of going public and undermining the bills?

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch made it clear, in his now famous Twitter tirade last Saturday, what he thinks led to the president's change of heart.

Murdoch wrote that "Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters." He then pointed a finger at Google by calling the search company a "piracy leader" that was "pouring millions into lobbying" to defeat SOPA and PIPA.

New Yorkers protest SOPA & PIPA bills (photos)

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Murdoch merely enunciated what my sources at the studios and record companies have been whispering (off the record) for months. They claim Google is most responsible for generating opposition to the bills. They say it wasn't Google's big donations to lawmakers or even the company's strong ties to the White House (multiple former Google employees work for the Obama administration) that has put the bills in jeopardy.

They argue that the president and the many members of Congress who turned against the bills in the past week are fearful of Google's grassroots power. Yesterday, Google and its allies rose up and wielded a previously untested ability to reach the masses and quickly sway public opinion.

On Wednesday, Wikipedia and dozens of other sites went dark as part of a protest against SOPA and PIPA. Google blacked out its logo on the company's homepage and posted a link where visitors were urged to oppose the legislation. As a result, millions of people sent messages to Congress. This kind of reach is not something elected officials can ignore.

So the people spoke and the president listened--which is how democracy is supposed to work, at least in theory. Some in Hollywood, however, are also determined to get their message to the White House--in the form of silence.