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Anger at White House from Studio Chiefs

The Obama administration is getting blowback from studio chiefs upset at the White House criticism of anti-piracy legislation, which has seemed to given credence and momentum to opponents’ campaign against the bills.

Rupert Murdoch has been tweeting away, and even suggesting that the anger at Obama is far more widespread that the administration may have calculated. Some studio executives have been grumbling about withholding support for Obama’s reelection bid, sources say, while the administration has made overtures toward trying to mend fences.

The White House statement criticized parts of the anti-piracy legislation, but what really irked studio chiefs was that it also cited concerns about censorship, which they saw as giving credibility to the concerns of opponents. “People are feeling really angry,” said one studio executive, who described a “feeling of taken a bit for granted” by the administration.

Opponents have pushed the the idea that the legislation is a threat to free speech, something that studio and recording industry lobbyists say is a blatant misrepresentation of the bills, designed to gin up a movement online. “Everyone is so outraged, particularly on the First Amendment issue,” the studio executive said. “[Free speech] is what we live and die by.”

There had been expectation among studio lobbyists last week that the administration would not weigh in at all on the legislation until it was closer to passage, so many studio officials were caught by surprise when three administration officials released a statement in a blog post on Saturday. The statement, however critical, nevertheless recognized the urgency of passing legislation this year, and of the two business communities working together on bills.

Whether studio unhappiness translates into a discernable dent in fundraising remains to be seen. But there has been a traditional disconnect between the motive for giving at the corporate level and the reasons for contributing in the broader creative community. “We are continuing to support the president,” said Andy Spahn, political consultant to DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg and director Steven Spielberg. Katzenberg, a campaign bundler, was to attend a meeting with Vice President Joseph Biden and Silicon Valley business leaders this evening. DreamWorks is not a member of the MPAA.

Nicole Avant, who is hosting a fund-raiser for First Lady Michelle Obama at her home on Jan. 31, said that she has not heard of any studio chief withdrawing support. “We are pretty much sold out,” she said.

The entire flare up over the legislation has been characterized as a battle between Silicon Valley and Hollywood, and both sectors have been sources of fundraising strength, although the tech sector has been on the upswing.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama’s campaign raised just over $1 million from the entertainment industry as of the end of September, and $1.3 million from the Internet and computer industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. But citing the CRP, Politico reported that Silicon Valley contributions were up 80 percent compared to the same period four years ago, while Hollywood giving was down 31 percent.

The figures do not take into account SuperPACs. Jeffrey Katzenberg gave $2 million to help launch a SuperPAC launched by former Obama aides, and other industry figures like J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath also gave to the independent expenditure committee.

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