Denis de Freitas

Leading copyright lawyer
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Denis Aufrere Stanley de Freitas, copyright lawyer: born Oxford 19 June 1922; called to the Bar, Inner Temple, 1948; Solicitor General, Federation of the West Indies 1958-62; Chairman, British Copyright Council 1976-89, President of Honour 1994-2000; OBE 1982; married 1951 Madge Quesnel (died 1999; three sons, five daughters, and one son deceased); died Barbados 30 December 2003.

When Denis de Freitas began his work in copyright in the mid-1960s, he was one of only a handful of specialists in this field, now a standard part of the repertoire of law firms of any size.

He came to the subject by chance. Born into a family of immigrants from Madeira who established themselves in the West Indies in the middle of the 19th century, he was educated in Barbados (where he became a star science pupil) and at Brasenose College, Oxford. Special arrangements had to be made to allow him to read Law, following in his father's footsteps, as he was only 16 when he arrived at the university. However, the Second World War intervened to prevent his completing his degree until 1946; he spent the war working (thanks to his school studies) as a research chemist in a large oil refinery in Trinidad.

Called to the Bar in 1948, de Freitas joined the Colonial Legal Service and returned to the West Indies, serving as a magistrate in various Caribbean islands including Grenada and St Lucia (where he met, and in 1951 married, his wife Madge). His career in the Colonial Legal Service culminated in his appointment as Solicitor General of the Federation of the West Indies, formed in 1958 to bring some 10 small colonies together as a prelude to independence. However, their interests proved too diverse for this initiative to succeed and the Federation broke up in 1962, leaving de Freitas without a job.

He decided to try his hand in the UK, where he moved with his wife and, by now growing, family. Job-hunting proved difficult, but, after qualifying as a solicitor, in 1964 he was appointed Legal Adviser to the Performing Right Society (PRS), which administers the public performance rights of composers, lyric writers and publishers of original musical works. This was to set the pattern for the remainder of his career.

For many years he represented the PRS on the British Copyright Council (a liaison committee of organisations whose members are copyright creators and performers) and became Chairman of the council in 1976. During the following 13 years, the council was active in lobbying for new copyright legislation in the UK, which came in the form of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988. On stepping down from the chairmanship in 1989, he acted as the council's honorary legal adviser until 1994, when he was elected President of Honour, a post he retained until he retired in 2000. He was appointed OBE in 1982 for his services to copyright.

In addition to his work for the PRS and the British Copyright Council (BCC), de Freitas found time to help the Public Lending Right campaign, led by Brigid Brophy and Maureen Duffy (who succeeded him as President of the BCC) and the subsequent formation of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society. He assisted in setting up national copyright bodies in many countries (including Hong Kong, Kenya and Nigeria), while advising a variety of Governments in Asia, Africa and North America, together with the United Kingdom, on copyright. His advice was eagerly sought, and highly valued, especially in the Caribbean, where he drafted several of the laws now in force.

Over the years, de Freitas built a reputation as one of the leading authorities on copyright internationally, as well as in the UK. He was twice Chairman of the Legal and Legislation Committee of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers and a consultant for 10 years to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the recording industry worldwide. He carried out assignments on behalf of the World Intellectual Property Organisation in Geneva, the British Council, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the European Commission. He was a contributor to legal journals and the author of a number of booklets on aspects of copyright, including the BCC's guide to the current UK law, The Law of Copyright and Rights in Performances (1990, second edition 1998).

At home, de Freitas led a busy life centred on his wife and their nine children (one son, Peter, drummer in the pop group Echo and the Bunnymen, died in a motorcycle accident in 1989) at their large house and garden in Goring-on-Thames, where his wife Madge made an increasingly large contribution to the local community before her death in 1999. They entertained a constant flow of visitors from around the world with generous hospitality, and high culinary skill, which only ended when de Freitas retired to Barbados in October 2003, shortly before his death.

Geoffrey Adams

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