Jack Valenti’s death yesterday was a sad event. In my years in Washington, I had many occasions to interact with him. On every occasion, he was honest, forthright, helpful, colorful, and a helluva lot of fun to be with. You knew you were in the presence of greatness and felt privileged to be with him. He was particularly good at one-on-one meetings with members of Congress. His advice was always straight, never slanted, and gladly taken. One occasion sticks out in this respect. After getting taken to the cleaners by the broadcasters in their successful efforts to get retransmission consent, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution to reverse their victory, and which my boss, the chairman of the subcommittee,, Mr. Hughes, agreed to introduce on the first day of the next session (the 103d Congress) as H.R. 12. (S. 12 had been the bill in the 102d Congress in which the broadcasters got their booty, so we reserved the number as an inside joke).
The bill came to me complete, in a flash one day while jogging in Rock Creek Park, and it was , I thought, a work of great beauty: simple, elegant (in the drafting sense), extremely short (one sentence), very easy to understand, and grounded in fundamental copyright law. Nevertheless, it had the effect (unstated) of repealing both retransmission consent and the Section 111 compulsory license.
Section 501 of title 17, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
`(f) A television broadcast station is an infringer of copyright and is subject to the remedies provided for in this chapter (other than section 506) if such station, without the express written consent of the copyright owner of a work broadcast by such station, authorizes the secondary transmission of such copyrighted work by a cable system or other multichannel video programming distributor.'
To this day, I believe it is the best work I have ever done, which not only shows that my best is very poor indeed, but it explains why to this day I remain deeply interested in statutory drafting, which I regard as high art if practiced correctly.
I was immensely proud when the bill was introduced, and was dying to see what the MPAA and Mr. Valenti thought of it since it would, if enacted, have helped them tremendously. Mr. Valenti asked for a meeting with Congressman Hughes. I went to the meeting in Mr. Hughes’ office. Mr. Valenti lavishly praised the ingenuity of the bill, but asked Mr. Hughes not to advance it, since it had zero chance of passing. Mr. Hughes accepted Mr. Valenti’s advice, and my work of art was DOA.
Mr. Valenti could have taken a number of approaches, such as urging hearings, using the bill as a trading card for something else, etc. But he didn’t: he did the honorable thing, and in private: he asked us not to proceed even though the bill was very favorable to him. That was the Jack Valenti I knew. It became a parlor game to quote some his wild metaphors, like the Boston Strangler-VCR quip. That was show business and he was a masterful showmen. But no one should mistake that for his real self. He was a gentleman in the old school sense who always kept his word and called it as he saw it. I am deeply honored to have known him. May he rest in peace.