Champion of Streaming Protections Sen. Leahy to Retire

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) (Image credit: U.S. Senate)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), currently the Senate‘s longest-serving member and its president pro tempore and a longtime proponent of better piracy protections for over-the-top content, will not run for re-election, he announced Monday (Nov. 15), after six terms in the Senate.

Leahy has been a prominent figure in communications circles as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which combines with the Commerce Committee to vet nominees, including to the Supreme Court, and takes the lead in antitrust issues related to proposed mergers.

Leahy said of his two decades as chairman and ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, his goal had always been to “defend our civil liberties, the First Amendment, our right to privacy and the free flow of information from the government to the people it represents.”

He has been prominent on issues particular to the media industry, including protecting and accessing content.

Leahy co-authored a bill making unauthorized streaming a felony to help crack down on criminal piracy in the age of increasingly over-the-top delivered content.

In 2020, after years of effort by the creative community and Leahy, the combination of the explosion of streaming content and over-the-top distribution channels and a COVID-19-sequestered populace for whom online video was entertainment lifeline created the proper conditions for passage of the bipartisan Protecting Lawful Streaming Act, which made stealing video streams a felony, as it already was for illegally copying and distributing copyrighted TV shows and movies.

Before the law passed, a pirated stream was treated as an illegal performance, which is a misdemeanor, rather than illegal reproduction and distribution, which is a felony. Making it a felony meant the greater deterrents of larger penalties or potential prison time.

Leahy has also been a backer of cameras, and later streaming, in the courts.

In the broadband space, like most Democrats, Leahy has backed network neutrality rules and once co-sponsored a bill that would have banned paid prioritization.

He also opposed the bulk collection by the government of communications records undertaken by the government in the wake of 9/11, instead saying such collection should be limited to specific investigations, something he championed in the USA Freedom Act, which he co-sponsored and which passed the Senate in 2015.

The Motion Picture Association hailed Leahy's protection of creative content.

“[MPA] thanks Senator Patrick Leahy for being a tireless champion of the creative community during his eight terms in the U.S. Senate,” MPA chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin said. "Throughout his career, he has been a lion for artists’ rights, from content creation to content protection. His commitment to the film, television and streaming industry goes beyond the halls of the Senate — he‘s been featured in five Batman movies, serving under four different Caped Crusaders. I hope he enjoys a well-deserved, long retirement with his family — his wife, Marcelle; his three children, Alicia, Kevin and Mark; and his five grandchildren. We look forward to seeing him back in Washington, Los Angeles or Gotham very soon.”

“It was my honor to serve with Patrick Leahy in the Senate and my good fortune to call him a friend. I even took the time recently to visit his boyhood home in Montpelier, Vermont," said National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith. "More importantly, during my time in the Senate[he was a Republican senator from Oregon], I had the privilege of traveling the world with Pat and working with him on a range of legislation, all in the interest of the nation. While leading NAB, I have been grateful for the opportunity to continue working with him in support of America’s local broadcasters. I thank Senator Leahy for his decades of service to the American public and the people of Vermont, and I wish my friend the very best in his retirement.”

“As a former staffer to Senator Leahy, I witnessed firsthand his incredible dedication to ensuring a better future for the people of Vermont," said incoming NAB COO and incoming president, Curtis LeGeyt. "Working with him instilled in me a dedication to public service that I carry with me as an advocate for radio and television broadcasting. It was a privilege to learn from one of this generation’s great legislators and public servants, and to see the important accomplishments made possible by working across party lines. I congratulate Senator Leahy on his well-deserved retirement.”■

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.