Legal Business

HarperCollins UK

  • General counsel: Simon Dowson-Collins.
  • Team headcount: 12 in legal and contracts, including four lawyers.

The UK legal arm at publishing house HarperCollins is considered the ‘lifeblood of the organisation’, according to its chief Simon Dowson-Collins. In dealing with over 600 contracts a year for the acquisition of rights to publish books, the 12-strong team negotiates lucrative agreements with high-profile authors including George RR Martin, Veronica Roth, David Walliams and Nigel Slater.

Key to negotiations is ensuring royalties and rights are secured in those contracts, which allows the company to exploit its rights over the 70-year lifetime of copyright. ‘It is core to the business because it’s what we trade on – it’s essential we are at the front-end of the business,’ says Dowson-Collins.

Major mandates for Dowson-Collins, whose experience of in-house includes serving as a media defamation litigator at the BBC, include handling matters regarding an investigation into the so-called agency model – under which publishers rather than retailers set the price of e-books – by the European Commission. The company settled in 2012 after concerns were raised by the Commission that HarperCollins, alongside Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Holtzbrinck Publishing Group and Apple, had restricted the price of cheap e-books in breach of EU antitrust legislation.

Innovative structures put in place include the formation of a global piracy centre for the entire business, while forging external relations with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, and notably establishing provisions for anti-bribery regulations and implementing a worldwide compliance programme.

Critical to the smooth operation is the department behaving collaboratively and collegiately, according to Dowson-Collins, and he says: ‘We live or die as a team and the ability to trust one another is crucial. You want people that care about what they do – that makes them trustworthy. Weak teams are internally competitive teams and contain people who are there for their own personal aggrandisement and ambition, before the good of others and the work they’re trying to do.’