Harry Bloom’s work is one of the forgotten histories of intellectual property law. Bloom, a South African writer, ‘deserves to be remembered as the founder of the teaching of the law affecting the media in the UK’ (Saxby and Goldberg, 2013). He conceived the discipline in a very wide manner, as a subject crucially linked to communications, media and information technologies. With Bryan Niblett, he set up a centre with a Legal research Unit in Computers and Communications at the University of Kent. While he was an influential member of the British Computer Society and spokesman and representative of the society on copyright before the Whitford Committee (1977), his importance is best appreciated not only by his pioneering work but also by the influence he exerted over his students, some of whom, like Jeremy Phillips and Stephen Saxby, became prominent scholars in intellectual property and information technology.
Harry Bloom “Communications and the Law” 4 (1) British Journal of Educational Technology, January 1973, pp. 2-23.
Keith Mander, University of Kent 1965-2015: Celebrating 50 Years (Canterbury: 2015)
Graham Martin, From Vision to Reality: Making of the University of Kent at Canterbury (Canterbury: 1990)
Steve Saxby and David Goldberg “Harry S. Bloom: 1913-1981” 29 (1) Computer Law and Security Review, February 2013, pp. 1-3
Facilitator: So how do you remember your time at Kent (University) and the people who influenced you?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Well, it was a very formative period of my life coming from a family where none of us had ever been to university before. In those days it was an achievement to get there, with just 5% of people making it. So I was daunted but it had just commenced its first five years of existence at Kent. So I came into Eliot College driving my Morris 1000 and I was actually very excited by the prospect. I guess that I wanted to prove myself and so I worked a great deal harder than most of my fellow students and that was interesting. I had a background in the police force, before I came, so I was a bit of an unusual kind of person. But I was excited by the opportunity to sit down and study law and particularly the degree there, the B.A. in Law which offered you different subjects including sociology, economics and history. Of course, with my police background I was interested in the law, but I was interested in law in context. I thought it would be interesting to study other areas and be able to bring them into the equation. .
Facilitator: How different was Kent from other universities?
Saxby: Well, I remember having the opportunity to go to places like Reading. I even applied to Southampton and got rejected because I didn’t have a language, which is really interesting. And here I am, Emeritus Professor at Southampton. It was an interesting university to go to for a whole range of reasons. It offered courses that attracted me. I wasn’t clear at that point exactly what university life would be like. We didn’t have the internet to tell us and websites to look up. I just came with an open mind and found that the courses were extremely interesting. Some of them had a perspective of politics within them, in the sense that some of the teachers were clearly directing their academic work within a left-wing context, but that was interesting to look at and compare.
Facilitator: How do you remember Harry Bloom and the courses that he taught?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Harry, as I’ve described, was gargantuan in terms of his influence upon me as an individual. I think we must have connected when I reached my second year and began to focus on courses because I remember him coming up to me and saying, “Look, when you get to your third year, you’ve got to come and do my Media Law course. I can see that you’re interested.” And we must have had many conversations. I also worked with his wife Sonia on the university newspaper or newsletter. So I had opportunities to engage with Harry through meeting on the campus.

I found myself interested in the law relating to computers. I can only think that part of that is the fact that my father worked for J. Lyons. There was a connection there because it was the first commercial company to install a computer for business purposes. I was fascinated by Harry’s sales pitch. There were no formal meetings with tutors in those days, as far as I can recall. It might be something written down, you know. But I was interested and I found him a stimulating person with his background to come and work with us as an undergraduate.


So, whilst he seem to be perceived within the school as something of a maverick figure, he stood about head and shoulders above everybody else in terms of the feeling one got when going into his class. You didn’t miss a class that Harry was giving. At least, I didn’t. Because I always knew that I when I got into that classroom he would come in, and just talk and it’s a style I’ve adopted in my own academic career. I like teaching a little bit on the edge. I don’t do like too much preparation. I want the ideas to come through and not in such a planned way as it comes across as a speech or it comes across as some prepared lecture. The best, most stimulating environment for me as an undergraduate, was to have somebody who would challenge me, who would point to me and ask me a question, who would talk about things that were broader and beyond the immediate scope of the subject matter, because it gave context and it gave interest. So that was his way. He would bring you out of yourself through the stimulating conversation that he would have with you in the classroom.
Facilitator: And what was the Media Law course about?
Prof. Steve Saxby: You’ve got to imagine that there wasn’t such a thing as Computer Law. There were computers and there was law, but the online world had not yet emerged sufficiently to start beginning to challenge the legal principles of the offline world in all the different areas where it does today. So you don’t have the benefit of hindsight. So what kind of course do you offer in 1970, ‘71 that could bring you into the world of computers? And I think the most obvious connection then was media. I think that whilst Harry perceived the commercial possibilities of computers, as exemplified by J. Lyons in the late 50s, he could more see the impact of computers on information and information flows. I remember phrases such as ‘trans-border information flow’ being mentioned, and writers such as Ithiel de Sola Pool writing about them. So the course was called Media Law. It was trying to explore and excavate what kind of world were we going to be heading into in the next decade in the context of the fact that computers were in existence and Moore’s law was clearly evident in terms of the doubling of computer capacity in the silicon chip every year or so. So, what did this mean for the storage of information? And so Media Law took us into questions more about information than it did at that point about computers. But computers were always mentioned as, well e.g. what if this were a computer, rather than an offline piece of information that we’re talking about? What if it were a database? So you can understand that Media Law was therefore bringing together a wide range of areas of law that might in the future be influenced by technology, although none of us quite knew how that would pan out.
Facilitator: So there was some copyright and some libel as well?
Prof. Steve Saxby: There was criminal law, there was defamation law, there was, of course, intellectual property, where we were trying to understand how copyright was. You’ve got to remember that in the late 1960s the concept of intellectual property was so new. I remember when I came for my interview here in 1977 for my academic post and Harry had got hold of me and said, “What on earth are you doing up in London getting your articles, becoming a solicitor? You’re wasting your time. For God’s sake, get back into academic life and start doing some research. There is a job going at Southampton. Apply for it. And for goodness sake, when you apply for that job, because Professor Dworkin, is on the panel, whatever you do, you must mention the expression intellectual property, because that will get you the job.” So I did. And of course, I didn’t realize that he was the leading national expert in intellectual property. So I left the interview room with my tail between my legs thinking I’d completely failed, because I didn’t really know anything about intellectual property. But of course, I was offered the post. And so it is interesting that that concept, intellectual property has really only been around for 50 years. It seems as if it has been around since the Berne Convention but it hasn’t.
Facilitator: You were talking before about Bryan Niblett. Do you remember the centre or other people who were at Kent?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Yes. When I was an undergraduate, there was more interest in the College. The buildings were there, but Harry had not yet moved out. Really his centre of gravity was in the law school as such. He moved into the Cornwallis Building that ultimately collapsed into the tunnel, but the Centre hadn’t formed at that point. But I knew he was talking about it.
Facilitator: The Morris Centre?
Prof. Steve Saxby: Not sure what it was called but yes, and it was when he created that centre that he was able to have a degree of independence from the school because his interests were different from those of the school to some extent. So his unit, his centre enabled him to explore the areas of interest that he wanted to pursue and people like Bryan Niblett and Jeremy Phillips were able to come and join him.
Facilitator: Do you remember why the centre collapsed? Was it due to lack of funding?
Prof. Steve Saxby: I think it was partly generated simply by the physical collapse of that building. I can’t remember exactly what year it was in the 1970’s and I had left UKC by then. I do remember that Harry was delighted when he bought Virgilia House just down the hill – the closest large building to the investor. I remember him saying how interesting it was that he was able to buy that under the nose of the university who I think wanted it for an administrative building. So it may be that some of his activities gravitated to this enormous house. I know there was a language school there at one time as well. But Jeremy Phillips would be in a better position to tell you about the time there and what happened to that centre.
Facilitator: Did you meet Jeremy during your time at Kent?
Prof. Steve Saxby: I had come across Jeremy, but I didn’t ever meet him at Kent. But I had knowledge of him because Harry told me that he was now coming. There was a possibility I would have been working with Jeremy had Harry been able to secure a grant for me to undertake a Ph.D to study the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet, with the possibility of going over to the United States for a period. Unfortunately, the money didn’t come, so I didn’t make it back to Kent. But of course, my very first publication when I became an academic was with Jeremy and so I knew of him and we used to exchange communication.