Christopher Heather: MySpace

As the man tasked with overseeing MySpace’s drive into Europe, Christopher Heather is well travelled even for a lawyer.

As the general counsel at the company behind MySpace, Christopher Heather is enjoying his second stint at an internet darling. He will be hoping it is less turbulent than the year he spent at fashion ‘e-tailers’, which famously went bust when the dotcom bubble burst at the turn of the century.

After a successful City IP career at firms such as Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith, Heather jumped straight into the dotcom bubble. But once clothes retailer went the way of many internet startups in 2000, Heather joined Vodafone and the relative stability of a big multinational.

A three-year stint in senior positions at Vodafone left Heather with a need to recharge his batteries with a two-year break to travel and do consultancy work.

His main reason for the break – “Exhaustion,” says Heather – is one that will be all too familiar to many lawyers, both in-house and in private practice.

“I didn’t move with the Vodafone legal team to the new offices in Newbury, so I was technically redundant. I went travelling with the redundancy money,” he recalls.”I read about the MySpace job in the International Herald Tribune while in France. It was lucky the opportunity came along when it did. You begin to miss the office environment and being part of a team.”

MySpace has the buccaneering spirit of, but within the confines of a stable company – namely Fox Interactive Media. The task that Heather took on when he arrived was not a small one. He was charged with starting up the company’s European legal team from scratch and assisting with the expansion of its flagship websites into Europe.

Heather’s legal team looks after film review site Rotten Tomatoes and gaming site IGN, but it is social networking phenomenon MySpace that is taking up most of his time at the moment.

“One of the biggest tasks is the launch of MySpace in Europe, setting up in countries such as Poland, Turkey and Russia,” says Heather. “So a lot of my work at the moment is setting up new companies and dealing with arrangements to do that in different jurisdictions.”

To help out with the development, Heather is looking to expand his legal team from two to four and is considering placing lawyers in countries such as France, Italy, Spain and Sweden.

Fox Interactive’s relationship firms should watch out or risk losing a few IP/IT associates. Heather built up his current team from lawyers drawn from his relationship firms.

“It was quite difficult to build the legal team from scratch,” he admits. “I had people seconded from firms and I poached them. Firms are okay about it.”

Heather uses a mixture of boutique IP/IT practices and global firms such as Allen & Overy (A&O) and Hogan & Hartson. He generally picks out the bigger firms for general corporate and commercial work, and prefers to use much smaller practices, such as Kemp Little in the UK or Portolano Colella Cavallo in Italy, for specialist media, IP and IT advice.

There is no formal panel and no plans for one either. Heather seems quite happy with the firms he has been given to work with, despite not going through a formal process to choose them.

“Hogan & Hartson is the firm the US uses and we’ve used them in different EU jurisdictions,” he says. “The link with A&O comes from News International.”

The legal function at Fox Interactive is more than just a tool to expand the business: it is a way of differentiating its sites from competitors. Heather says the privacy policy at MySpace is stronger than that of its rivals, including Facebook.

Breach of copyright is another problem for Heather to deal with as MySpace checks content uploaded by users for sex and violence but not for copyright violations, such as pirated films or TV shows. The company waits for takedown notices and then acts, devoting a third of its staff to the task of responding to the notices. “It’s a huge part of what we do and it differentiates us from other social networks,” explains Heather.

With all the different responsibilities, Heather has found the in-house lifestyle at Fox Interactive a different one to that of a freewheeling traveller. “It’s hard, hard work and very long hours,” he says. “There’s not always an easy solution. It’s a myth that life is easy in-house.”

Well, at least there’s always the holidays to look forward to.

Name: Christopher Heather
Company: Fox Interactive Media
Position: General counsel, Europe
Reporting to: Global general counsel Mike Angus
Number of employees: 200
Legal capacity: Two
Average annual legal spend: £1m
Main law firms: Hogan & Hartson, Allen & Overy, Kemp Little, Olswang, Lawrence Graham, Franklin, Portolano Colella Cavallo, Vinge

Christopher Heather’s CV

1988-90: BA Hons (Law) Southampton University
1990-91: College of Law, York
Work history: 1991-96: Associate, Herbert Smith
1996-98: Associate, Olswang
1998-99: Associate, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
1999-2000: General counsel,
2000-03: General counsel,
Vodafone Global Content Services
2005-present: General counsel, Fox Interactive Media