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March 28, 2004

To Jack Valenti - A Simple Goodbye

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Posted by Ernest Miller

Dan Gillmor, a fellow I generally agree with, has written a pean to the decades-long president of and lobbyist for the MPAA, Jack Valenti, who is soon to retire (Valenti, Right and Wrong, Is a Man to Respect). Gillmor's article finds much to admire in the man, finding him a fervent defender of the First Amendment and personally charming. That I grant, but much of the characterization is over the top.

Yes, Jack defended the First Amendment. But, as Gillmor notes, I think Cory Doctorow said it best (Valenti Retires): "He's a man who championed the First Amendment rights of filmmakers and derided the First Amendment rights of programmers, a person who loved free speech, but not enough to share it with the rest of us." It is easy to be a champion of free speech when it is your free speech at issue. It is much more difficult to champion free speech when it is not in your interest to do so. To my knowledge, Jack has never defended free speech that was not in the interests of his paymasters, so I don't give him a whole lot of points there.

As for charming, was Jack "gracious and respectful" when he compared the VCR to a vicious, bloody serial killer? He hasn't stepped back from this statement (Valenti's Views): "[E]verything I predicted came true."

Was he "show[ing] respect for his opponents" when he compared file swapping to terrorism? Heck, was he showing respect for the victims of terrorism when he compared file swapping to terrorism?

Jack has been "eloquent yet plain-spoken" in his views. But what is eloquence in the service of ignorance? For example, Jack Valenti often spoke eloquently against DeCSS, yet seemed astonishingly ignorant about the case. Below are some quotations from his deposition in the Reimerdes case:

Q Mr. Valenti, who are the members of the DVD CCA?
A I don't know.
Q Do you know who the DVD CCA is?
A No.
Q Do you know who issues the licenses to the hardware manufacturers that play DVDs?
A No.
Q Do you know who issues the licenses to the replicators that make DVDs from the films that are submitted to them?
A No, I do not.
Q Have you ever met anybody at the DVD CCA?
A Not that I'm aware of.
Q Do you know what that entity is at all?
A No, I don't.
Q Do you know who controls the licenses for DVDs?
A No, I don't.


Q Does the -- do you know who makes the hardware for DVDs?
A No, I don't.
Q Have you had any discussion with the hardware makers of DVDs about piracy?
A No. Not I'm aware of. I'm not aware of any discussions I've had.
Q Do you know how DECSS work?
A Not really.


Q Has anyone ever told you that a DVD has been de-encrypted by DECSS?
A I don't recall.
Q Has anyone ever told you that they had ever seen on the internet a DVD de-encrypted by DECSS?
A I don't recall.

That is only a small sampling of the deposition.

Yes, Valenti was a charming, vigorous and successful advocate. So are a lot of people. That doesn't make them admirable nor, necessarily, people "to respect." Valenti was well-payed and received many perks for his advocacy. He has already been amply rewarded for his work. He has earned the respect due any hard worker. There is no need to canonize him - a simple, polite goodbye will suffice.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Misc.


1. Cory Doctorow on March 29, 2004 2:08 PM writes...

More damning than Valenti's Boston Strangler comparison is his Japanese-baiting racism in the same speech, that opportunistically exploited the car-wars-era xenophobia in the service of banning the VCR:

Now, my first card, Mr. Chairman, deals with what I consider to be one of the essential elements that you cannot ignore and, indeed, you must nourish. The U.S. film -- and I will read this -- "The U.S. film and television production industry is a huge and valuable American asset." In 1981, it returned to this country almost $1 billion in surplus balance of trade. And I might add, Mr. Chairman, it is the single one American-made product that the Japanese, skilled beyond all comparison in their conquest of world trade, are unable to duplicate or to displace or to compete with or to clone. And I might add that this important asset today is in jeopardy. Why?
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