Charles Clark

Defender of publishers' copyright
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The Independent Online

Charles David Lawson Clark, publisher and copyright adviser: born London 12 June 1933; editor, Sweet and Maxwell 1957-60; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1960; editor, Penguin Books 1960-66; managing director, Penguin Education 1966-72; managing director, Allen Lane the Penguin Press 1967-69; managing director, Hutchinson Publishing Group 1972, chairman 1972-80, chief executive 1984-90; legal adviser, Publishers Association 1984-99, adviser, Freedom to Publish 2000-02; Chairman, Copyright Licensing Agency 1985-88, legal adviser 1988-99; General Counsel, International Publishers Copyright Council 1990-99; Copyright Representative, Federation of European Publishers 1990-99; married 1960 Fiona McKenzie Mill (one son, three daughters); died London 6 October 2006.

Charles Clark was the publishing industry's leading adviser on copyright throughout a period of unprecedented change and development - internet-based development which he welcomed and the importance of which he was one of the first to recognise.

He advised several publishing industry and copyright organisations worldwide, including not only the Publishers Association and the Copyright Licensing Agency in London, but also the International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) in The Hague, the Federation of European Publishers in Brussels, and the International Publishers Copyright Council in Geneva. As a result, he had a unique authority on copyright issues, and his speeches from the podium - or his frequent interventions from the floor - were masterpieces of their kind, full of his own experience and wisdom, and laced not only with precise legal emphasis, but also an elegant wit and a memorable turn of phrase (of which perhaps the most enduring is "The answer to the machine is in the machine").

Charles Clark might easily have become a lawyer. He read Law at Jesus College, Oxford, and was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1960, giving him a lifelong familiarity with English and international law which served him (and publishing) extremely well in his later copyright work. But he started his working career in publishing, as a legal editor at the law publisher Sweet and Maxwell, where he met his future wife, Fiona, and later at Penguin, where he commissioned many ground-breaking paperback works on legal topics designed for the general reader, such as Gordon Borrie and Aubrey L. Diamond's The Consumer, Society and the Law (1964) and Harry Street's seminal Freedom, the Individual and the Law (1963), early examples of Clark's passionate belief that the law should not only develop in line with social change but also be properly understood by those it most affects.

After Penguin, Clark moved to Hutchinson, where he was managing director and later chief executive, but he was also involved in advising the publishing industry's trade association the Publishers Association on copyright matters, including the Whitford Committee's Report on Copyright and Designs of 1977, which led ultimately to the current UK copyright Act, the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

One of the key recommendations of the report was that the UK should introduce a viable system of collective licensing to manage the increasing problem of unauthorised photocopying in schools and universities, so authors and publishers joined forces to create the Copyright Licensing Agency (CLA), still going strong today, to license such uses nationwide, and internationally via reciprocal agreements. Clark was an early adviser of CLA and retained a strong interest in collective licensing, not only in the UK but internationally.

Clark realised early on the importance for copyright, like other aspects of UK law, of getting on the train to Brussels. The European Commission had already identified the mixture of varying copyright regimes across the EU as a candidate for the famous "level playing field" and a conscious policy of harmonisation was launched, including extension in 1993 of the term of copyright to 70 years after the year in which the author died (the then German term).

In helping to chart a course through such minefields, Clark was a valiant defender of the publishing industry, represented in Brussels by the Federation of European Publishers, as he was in 1996 when the much-needed Database Directive was passed, to protect valuable investments in databases which might not be sufficiently "original" to merit full EU copyright protection. Clark always referred to the database right which ensued as a rare example of a specific publishers' right, and regularly championed its need.

Although he was a staunch defender of copyright, and the need to protect publishers' investment in creative works, Clark understood that copyright historically has been a compromise, between exclusive rights on the one hand and reasonable access on the other. As an author, he also understood well the need for publishers and authors to agree regularly on workable contract terms, and one of his enduring legacies is the substantial collection of annotated publishing contracts he first edited in 1980 and which is now rightly known as Clark's Publishing Agreements (due to appear in a seventh edition next year).

Charles Clark will always be identified with copyright, but he was active too in many other publishing areas, such as freedom to publish, defamation and human rights. He was also active outside the world of books in his work as chair of the mental health charity Mind.

Such a determined and active life style not surprisingly took its toll on his health. He retired in 1999, following doctors' advice after a serious heart attack in Boston on one of his many transatlantic copyright missions ("If you're thinking of having a heart attack," he once said to me, "I can thoroughly recommend Boston General Hospital").

The issues Clark identified are still with us in the publishing trade, primarily the extent to which copyright (which has proved quite adaptable for 300 years) will adapt to digital and internet uses, but also how authors, publishers and their ultimate consumers, readers and users, will continue to develop the healthy working relationship which Charles Clark did so much to foster.

Hugh Jones