Sunday, November 30, 2008

In Memoriam Sir Hugh Laddie

Baruch dyan ha-emet. “Blessed is the Judge of Truth,” is an expression uttered when one hears news of a terrible loss, especially death. It is the expression I used when I heard of the death of Sir Hugh Laddie, zikhrono livrakha.

Sir Hugh was buried today in London. He was born in 1946. His mother is, I believe still alive at the age of 91. Though he didn’t learn a great deal of Yiddish, his mother was fluent in it: when her grandparents fled Russia to England, the only way to communicate with them was in Yiddish. His father died some time ago, but this last year was the first Kol Nidre he had missed, due to his health. Although Hugh did not accept the existence of a divine spirit, Kol Nidre had been for him a day of intense family bonding, and so the inability to go to it this last year was a source of regret.

When I stopped my blog, Hugh posted a comment urging me to resume. I haven’t resumed it , but the loss of my dear friend warrants a farewell.

Sir Hugh studied at Aldenham School and St Catharine's College, Cambridge. In 1980, he and his co-authors Peter Prescott and Mary Vitoria published the first edition of their landmark treatise, The Modern Law of Copyright and Design. (Last year a fourth edition was published). At the time it was seen as a quite courageous thing to do because the existing standard textbook in England - Copinger and Skone James - was taken for granted. At the time of Hugh’s treatise, there was no perceived need for anything else. Paul Torremans, reviewing the third edition in EIPR in 2001, described some of the chapters as revolutionary: they dared to have views that did not jibe with the status quo, and to express those views publicly.

After being called to the bar, Sir Hugh also performed valuable public service: in 1992 he was appointed Vice Chairman of the Copyright Tribunal, a statutory body that settles disputes between collecting societies and users of copyrighted works over royalty rates. In 1986, he was appointed a Queen’s Counsel (having been called to the bar in 1969). From 1981 to 1986, he served as a counsel for Her Majesty’s Treasury, a capacity in which he represented the British Government and the British Patent Office in all areas of Intellectual Property law litigation.

After 25 years as a successful IP barrister (during which he developed a well-deserved reputation as an expert patent and trademark lawyer too), he was appointed a Justice of the High Court in 1995, hearing cases in the Chancery Division and Patents Court (which includes copyrights).

On the bench, he continued the honesty and humor that was as much a part of his personality as his searing intellect and personal warmth. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a BBC story, about a dispute between two bands:

The judge in a court case involving two groups called Blue has been demonstrating his knowledge of the finer points of the pop and rock world.

Mr Justice Hugh Laddie is in charge of the case in which pop act Blue are being sued by a 1970s rock band of the same name. The original Blue want to prevent them from using the name, saying their own career and reputation is being damaged. They are suing the contemporary boy band and their label EMI/Virgin, for up to £5m.

As proceedings began at the High Court, Mr Justice Laddie defied the image of Britain's crusty, out-of-touch judiciary with some pithy examination of counsel. The judge - known for his broad taste in music - appeared surprised when the older band's barrister said their reputation was being threatened.

"Are you seriously saying that fans of one group would mistake one for the other?" he asked Charles Purle QC.

“There is somewhat a difference of appearance. One is aged like you and me, the other is a boy band." Mr Purle said: "My clients were a boy band in the 1970s."

The judge replied: "Oh no. Boy band is a style of music that is a bit more recent than the Charleston."

He resigned in 2005, the first High Court judge to do so in 35 years. His resignation caused a furor (in British spelling "furore," signifying a great degree of sturm und drang than the shorter, more base U.S. emotion). An article in the Times Online awhile after his resignation, a few wonderful quotes from Sir Hugh:

I was at the Bar for 25 years. I had a truly stupendous time. I still think, if you’re lucky and get a good practice, it’s a great job.” But with the heavy and tiring workload — “it was the only thing my wife and I would argue about” — he had no doubt about becoming a High Court judge. “There was only one direction — down. You can’t stay at the top for ever.”

For the first five years, he enjoyed it. But aspects jarred. “One thing is that you are really isolated. You can go all day without speaking to another judge.” So he set up a common room where judges could meet weekly for teas. Laddie, who was senior judge of the Patents Court, also believed strongly that the courts should serve litigants, not the profession. “That meant I was determined to try to cut costs to a point where I used to irritate people.

“Everyone has egos — it’s a matter of how difficult you find it to control.” Laddie did not endear himself to counsel when, at the start of a case, having read the papers, he would make clear his preliminary views. “Obviously I had provisional thoughts — it would be amazing if I didn’t. Some would say: he’s made up his mind. I hadn’t, of course.”

Laddie also objected to sitting on Chancery cases beyond his expertise. Had he taken a case outside his field at the Bar, he’d have left himself open to a negligence action, he says. But the moment he was a judge he was expected to do just that. “It was challenging — like high-wire walking — but I didn’t think it fair for clients to be learning at their expense.” Most worrying were the cases involving unrepresented litigants, with applications “ in an area of law that I knew nothing about”.

Nevertheless, despite the extremely hostile reactions of some of his colleagues to his resignation, in July of this year, Sir Hugh defended the British judiciary: "They were not people who used quill pens. They're computer literate, savvy, quite ordinary, nice people and not hidebound traditionalists.”

Rather than retiring to the country and practicing his fly-fishing technique, Sir Hugh joined the IP boutique Willoughby & Partners as a consultant. In that capacity, I had the great joy to hire him in 2007 as an expert on UK law for an amicus brief I filed in a case involving Uri Geller. Plaintiff asserted that a resident of Pennsylvania who was a critic of Geller’s committed a violation of UK law by uploading an allegedly infringing video on to YouTube’s servers, from which the video was hosted for others to view. Sir Hugh wrote in his report, however, that “a finding of infringement through authorization is dependent upon there being a finding that the person who was authorized, committed an infringement of United Kingdom copyright by performing, in the United Kingdom, one of the activities set out in section 16(1).” He concluded: “It follows from this that if the primary acts of which the plaintiff complains took place outside the United Kingdom there cannot be infringement of British copyright. Alleging authorization makes no difference to this. It is not an infringement to authorize a non-infringing activity.” After I filed Sir Hugh’s report, plaintiff did not even bother to file an answer and the case was settled.

In addition to being a consultant to the Willoughby firm, Sir Hugh became Professor Laddie when, in 2006, he became a Professor of Intellectual Property Law at University College London. There he founded the Institute of Brand and Innovation Law (IBIL). He wrote me a note recently about this post:

I thought that being a Professor entailed nothing more than walking around looking sombre while talking in obscure English. Apparently there's more to it than that. There are lectures, exams, exam-marking and begging people for support funds. At least on the last issue I got some help from a friend. I had sent out a number of begging letters to various firms of lawyers and was having dinner with this friend. I told him what I had done. .. . He asked me whether I had telephoned all the people to whom I had sent a letter. I was horrified. I didn't think it was part of my job to actually phone people up and ask. He pointed out, not unreasonably, that most people do not respond to letters asking for money and that really what you have to do is to speak to them either face-to-face or on the phone so that they feel too embarrassed to refuse. … I have got quite used to it now. I have developed an extremely thick skin and, by English standards, I think I have been rather successful.

In connection with the University’s Institute of Brand and Innovation Law , in June of this year, he gave an interview on the question of piracy in China and made these remarks. (I would love to know whether they made their way to USTR):

China has become a scapegoat for the West’s intellectual property problems, a leading lawyer said today. Sir Hugh Laddie, a former High Court judge, said that although China had issues with counterfeiting and other forms of intellectual property theft, there was a “complete misconception” about the scale of the problem relative to other countries. Sir Hugh said: “Of course there is counterfeiting in China, but the same goes on in the US and Europe. Pro rata, the biggest source of pirated computer software in the world in the US.”

Sir Hugh’s courage extended to his decisions on the bench, most famously in the Arsenal case. Marty Schwimmer described Sir Hugh’s actions in the case this way,

A vendor sold scarves with the Arsenal football club name and indicia. The issue turns on whether use of a team name in such way is trademark use in that sense that the team name designates the origin of the good, or is the team name and logo merely decorative use in the sense that the wearer of the scarf is merely communicating allegiance to that team. It's my understanding that Laddie himself tends toward the latter view ... . Laddie referred the case to the ECJ. Now that the ECJ has ruled that of course it's trademark use, Laddie has refused to follow its decision, apparently relying on the fact that the ECJ made fresh findings of fact, something it had no power to do.

The court of appeals reversed him. Reversal by a higher court doesn't of course mean HL was wrong, only that he had the courage to point out the dangerous usurpation by the EU, an "Emperor Has No Clothes" statement that must have embarrassed the court of appeals. May we all emulate him. Nor did his opinion stem from antipathy toward EU rights. Quite the contrary, in his earlier, 2001 Burrell Competition Lecture, "National I.P. Rights: A Moribund anachronism in a Federal Europe," 23 E.I.P.R. 402 (2001), he concludes "Now that we are in a single market, our domestic economy is Community-wide. So should our I.P. rights be. ... I can only hope that the Community trade mark will prove such a success that users will vote with their feet and will use it to the exclusion of national rights."

In the field of copyright, two of Sir Hugh’s articles should be laminated and placed on your desk so they may be re-read often. The first is his 1995 Stephen Stewart lecture, "Copyright: Over-strength, Over-regulated, Over-rated", published in 18 European Intellectual Property Review 253 (1996). Sir Hugh began the lecture this way:

The purpose of this lecture, given in honour of the memory of a clever and perceptive copyright lawyer, is to consider the current state of copyright law in this country. Does it meet current commercial needs? My purpose this evening is to ask questions and possibly raise doubts. Copyright is one of the quartet of monopolies which form the core of what is now known as intellectual property law. The others, of course, are patents, trade marks and registered designs. I suppose that since the introduction of the unregistered design right in the 1988 legislation, there really is a quintet of such rights. Each, in its own way, places a fetter on the right of others to compete in the market-place with the originator of the right or his employer. Therefore, to some extent, each distorts trade.

If this were all, these monopolies would work against the interests of the public at large. At the simplest level it can be said that the existence of a monopoly enables the monopolist to increase his prices or restrict supply as he pleases. Of course, we know that that is much too superficial a view. It ignores all the benefits to the public at large which can flow from the increased creativity and investment which are the product of a well-balanced monopoly system. But we must always bear in mind that monopoly legislation is the end result of a balancing act: is the restraint on competition justified by the benefits which it gives to society at large? In this lecture I would like to consider this basic balancing act as it applies to copyright.

One of the areas where he felt the balance was out of whack was with the length of copyright and the low standard for originality, seen in this passage:

[A]s a result of the Term Directive, the copyright in the first category of works, that is to say, literary works and so on, is now life of the author plus 70 full years. This additional 20 years has been imposed throughout the Member States of the European Union to bring us into line with the domestic law of Germany. As is now familiar in copyright law, the process was one of leveling up the protection rather than levelling down. The result of this new term is that if, for example, a young computer programmer writes a new piece of computer software, he generates a monopoly which will normally last for over 100 years. Depending on his longevity, it may last more than 150 years. Similarly, if a politician writes letters or speeches which are of general historic interest, they also may be protected for a century or more. Indeed, if a modern-day architect were to design a new Albert Memorial, he would have the satisfaction of knowing that his copyright is likely to be sprightly and in the prime of life long after the concrete and steel of his architectural creation have started to crumble.

The question to be asked is: what justification is there for a period of monopoly of such proportions? It surely cannot be based on the principle of encouraging artistic creativity by increasing the size of the carrot. No one is going to be more inclined to write computer programs or speeches, compose music or design buildings because 50, 60 or 70 years after his death a distant relative whom he has never met might still be getting royalties. It is noticeable that this expansion of term is not something which has only occurred in the last decade. On the contrary, it has been a trend which has been in evidence for the whole of this century. Before the 1911 Act, the term of copyright in artistic works extended to seven years after the author's death. In 1911 this was extended to 50 years after death. The growth of term is in fact greater than these figures suggest. Life expectancy in 1910 was far shorter than it is now. The result is that a monopoly which was expected to last about four decades in 1910 should now be expected to last on average more than three times as long.

Indeed, I believe that the same criticism of excessive duration can be leveled at the 50-year flat term which applies to films, recordings and broadcasts. It may be possible to pick out a few creations of exceptional artistic or commercial merit where one could argue for lengthy protection - for example, the recordings of Rostropovich or the Beatles - but is it right that all copyright should be protected on the basis of what might be thought justified for the exceptional few? Furthermore, it is possible to argue that these long copyright terms are not necessary to protect the commercial exploitation of the works themselves. Most works protected by copyright are exploited very rapidly, if at all. This is so whether we are considering films and records or literary works such as computer software. Even books such as those that win the Booker prize are only commercially successful for a short time and then, to all intents and purposes, pass away. Yet the dead hand of copyright lingers on, in most cases serving no useful purpose.

Another of the problems with copyright law is that, unlike inventions protected by patent or designs protected by registration, the requirements for qualification are so low as to be virtually non-existent. Virtually any written material, any sketch and any film footage or sound recording is automatically protected. This has practical consequences. In Elanco v Mandops, the Court of Appeal accepted, as it had to, that a label of instructions placed on the side of a barrel of herbicide was a copyright literary work. No doubt depending on the youth of the literary genius who wrote it, the label will be protected for more than a century and perhaps for as long as a century and a half - certainly well beyond the date when for safety or commercial reasons the product has been removed from the market. So one of the troubles with copyright, then, is that it springs up to protect nearly every creation of the human mind, be it ever so trivial. As another member of the judiciary put it, the fact that our system of communication, teaching and entertainment does not grind to a standstill is in large part due to the fact that in most cases infringement of copyright has, historically, been ignored.


He criticized the insane criminalization of the economic tort of copyright infringement: “We have … reached the stage where taxpayers' money is being used to enforce private rights which many might think are more than adequately protected by civil remedies. I should also mention that it appears that in most cases it is not the poor and weak who are using these criminal provisions but the rich and well organised.” Importantly for the current debates around the world on air use versus fair dealing, Sir Hugh came out in favor of fair use, beginning with criticisms of the 1988 UK Copyright Act’s enumerated and lengthy list of possible fair dealings:

These detailed and pedantic exceptions to copyright protection, and their predecessors in the 1956 Act, are not only difficult to understand in some cases, but they also reinforce the perception that virtually all reproductions of copyright works, no matter how innocuous, are infringements. Is it surprising then, that when, for the purposes of advertising the film "Carry on Cleo', a poster was created which was a harmless but humorous spoof of a similar poster for the Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film "Cleopatra', it was held to infringe copyright.

It would be possible to go on criticising the width of our copyright laws, but perhaps I have said enough. It might be more useful to inquire why our law has developed as it has. I have mentioned already the value and size of the industries which now believe they need extensive copyright protection to safeguard their income stream. They, quite properly, lobby for their interests. But who lobbies against them? There is no trade union of copyright infringers. Support for any limitation on copyright is easily portrayed as support for pirates - the usual pejorative global expression for infringers. It is depicted as support for the parasites of industry. Is it surprising, then, that the scope of protection gets ever wider? I suggest that the drafting of the legislation bears all the hallmarks of a complacent certainty that wider copyright protection is morally and economically justified. But is it?

Sir Hugh’s second speech, his inaugural talk as a professor at UCL, was delivered on December 4, 2007; it is entitled “The Insatiable Appetite for Intellectual Property Rights.” Alas, I do not think it has been published or is available online. In this talk, Sir Hugh noted a point deliberately obscured by the property rights rhetoric, that competition, not ownership is the natural state of affairs:

We believe in competition. It is competition which, by and large, delivers better and cheaper goods and services to the consumer. Competition is the whip
which drives traders to offer more for less to their customers. … If they don’t they will lose market share and profits to competitors who do. In our system, competition is king. It is the enemy of complacency. …

So where do IP rights fit into this? After all, they appear to undermine the very basis of our economic success. They hinder by creating areas of exclusivity. What are they supposed to deliver which justifies this subversion of the free market?

Sir Hugh’s answer was this:

The function of IP rights is to provide an economic incentive to goods and services, which, absent the would not exist or would take many more years to reach the market. They make up for a defect in the competitive system by supplying an incentive where otherwise there would be none.

This answer is orthodox, but here is how Sir Hugh ties the orthodoxy into his views on competition:

IP rights are the carrot to competition’s stick. Their purpose is not to displace competition but to modify it, to create sufficient economic incentive to justify the labour and investment in new products or art, but, after that incentive has worked its magic, to allow the normal forces of competition to have their way. … [O]nce the incentive has had its effect there is no further justification for its retention. It has done its work and competition should be allowed to return.

It is this last point that the property rights rhetoric wish to deny, but which Sir Hugh won’t allow. Sir Hugh concluded as follows:


We should be trying to hone the system so that the greatest rewards and encouragement go to
those industries which need and deserve them the most. Where IP rights perform their function of advancing the science or arts, they should be encouraged to do so. Where or to the extent that they do not, they have no justification and the normal discipline of competition should apply. The gluttony which has resulted in the growth of completely unnecessary or excessively long IP rights undermines the system itself. As Shakespeare wrote in Richard II,
--“With eager feeding food doth choke the feeder.”

We have lost a great treasure; a man whose erudition and practical experience rightly gave his views tremendous influence; a man whose honesty and candor was as rare as it is essential. Sir Hugh faced death as he did life, and we can learn from him in this too. He did not have a fear of death for himself, but instead worried about how his death would upset his beloved wife Stecia and children. Shortly his death he told me:

I am as greedy as the next man and want more of the fun and love-filled days that I have enjoyed in the past. But all these things come to an end at some time and I am not in a position to complain. I have a wonderful wife, three great children, six challenging and fun-filled grandchildren, have had a remarkably enjoyable career and have achieved more than I deserved and, last but not least, have a collection of wonderful and generous friends. What more could I ask for?

8 comments:

Andrew Bridges said...

Thank you for this wonderful extended memorial of Sir Hugh. I remember his sparkling mind and wit, which were for years one of the great attractions of the Fordham International Intellectual Property Law and Policy Conference. We have lost a wonderful presence.

Michael said...

Interesting Read...


Rest In Peace.

Sunnny Kalara said...

Thank you for such a gracious and thoughtful memorial for Sir Hugh. I have enjoyed and admired his writing and he will be surely missed.

Umm... one way to show respect for Sir Hugh would be to follow his suggestions.. So how about resuming the blog?

Latha R Nair said...

I am an IP lawyer from India and am sad to hear about the death of Sir Laddie. I have read some of his judgements and believe that he was different from the rest and was a courageous judge, never hesitating to tread a less traveled path. May his soul rest in peace.

Multi-Screens said...

This was a very enjoyable read and very informative! Thanks!

Philipp said...

What a wonderful obituary of such a remarkable person.

I never had a chance to meet him in person, but as an IP lawyer myself, I will keep his words in my mind and heart.

Thank you, Bill, for the last four years of blogging and everything you have done for the area of IP law in general and everything you intend to do in the future. Looking forward to your new updated treaties.

Rest in peace Sir Hugh Laddie.

Joseph said...

I am an IP lawyer from India and am sad to hear about the death of Sir Laddie. I have read some of his judgements and believe that he was different from the rest and was a courageous judge, never hesitating to tread a less traveled path. May his soul rest in peace.

Ankur said...

Thanks for this really informative post........Keep it up.

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