Harvey Weinstein, a vocal supporter of President Barack Obama and Oscar-winning film producer, claimed Sunday night that Obama backed off from anti-piracy action in 2012 because it was an election year. Speaking at the PGA Producers’ Breakfast in Park City, Weinstein said:
All of these companies are stealing from us. When [former Sen. Christopher Dodd, president of the MPAA] said, “We’re gonna get these guys,” the president backed off. I don’t think he’ll back off now. It was an election year, and he had to take a pragmatic political stance to survive.
While Weinstein did not mention the Stop Anti Piracy Online (SOPA) or Protect IP Address (PIPA) Acts by name, the bills were the highest-profile anti-piracy measures considered by Congress in 2012. Both were shelved after consumers staged massive online protests.
The Obama administration has provoked the ire of the online community by other means, most notably through the Department of Justice’s “Operation In Our Sites,” wherein Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seizes control of domains deemed to have infringed copyright laws. Several House members, including Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing concerns that Operation In Our Sites violated due process and First Amendment rights of business owners with legitimate commercial interests through their sites.
In one of the most infamous domain shutdown cases, the DOJ targeted file-sharing site MegaUpload, though its seizure was not specifically linked to Operation In Our Sites. The hacker group Anonymous retaliated by taking down the DOJ website and those of industry groups RIAA and MPAA with denial-of-service attacks.
Obama reached out to young Internet users in his 2012 campaign, most famously when he appeared on the website Reddit for an Ask Me Anything (AMA) thread, fielding questions from random members of the site’s community. He also relied heavily on Hollywood, enlisting celebrities such as George Clooney, Sarah Jessica-Parker, and Weinstein to headline fundraisers.
While the entertainment industry may agree with Obama on many political issues, it still has a financial incentive to lobby Washington, DC for favorable tax and regulatory policies, including anti-piracy crackdowns such as In Our Sites. And with his prediction, “I don’t think [Obama will] back off now,” Weinstein reveals Hollywood still intends to pressure the President to support whatever legislation Congress drafts in the vein of SOPA and PIPA.
The President, then, faces a difficult decision–either reward his campaign backers, hurting his image among young voters, or offend his bundlers to preserve his popularity ratings.