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Meghan: Duchess of Sussex wins copyright claim against Mail On Sunday over letter to father

Written by on 6 May 2021

The Duchess of Sussex has won her copyright claim against the Mail On Sunday over the publication of a handwritten letter to her estranged father Thomas Markle.

Meghan, 39, sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), which also publishes MailOnline, over articles which reproduced parts of the letter sent to her 76-year-old dad in August 2018.

She claimed the five articles, published in print and online in February 2019, misused her private information, infringed her copyright and breached the Data Protection Act.

The High Court granted Meghan summary judgment in February in relation to her privacy claim, meaning she won that part of the case without having to go to trial, as well as most of her copyright claim.

Meghan and Prince Harry Image: Prince Harry and Meghan now live in California after stepping back as senior royals. File pic

In the February ruling, Lord Justice Warby said ANL’s publication of Meghan’s letter to her father was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”. He added: “It was, in short, a personal and private letter.”

At a remote hearing on Wednesday, the judge granted summary judgment in her favour in relation to the remaining parts of the duchess’s copyright claim, after lawyers acting on behalf of the Queen said it does not belong to the Crown.

ANL previously said it believed Jason Knauf – formerly communications secretary to Prince Harry and Meghan – was a co-author of the letter, which it argued meant the letter belonged to the Crown.

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But, on Wednesday, the High Court heard Mr Knauf has “emphatically” denied being a co-author and that lawyers representing “the Keeper of the Privy Purse, acting on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen” told Meghan’s solicitors they “did not consider the Crown to be the copyright owner”.

Ian Mill QC, for the duchess, said the Keeper of the Privy Purse’s lawyers had written to Meghan’s solicitors “disclaiming any claim to copyright on behalf of the Crown”.

In written submissions, Mr Mill also said Mr Knauf’s lawyers confirmed he did not write the letter to Mr Markle and “it has never been his belief that he was an author”.

The court heard his lawyers said: “Mr Knauf did not draft, and has never claimed to have drafted, any parts of the electronic draft or the letter and would never have asserted copyright over any of their content.

“In our client’s view, it was the duchess’s letter alone.”

He said Meghan “shared a draft” of the letter with Harry and Mr Knauf “for support, as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her”.

Mr Mill told the court Mr Knauf “suggested that a reference to Mr Markle’s ill-health be included”, which Meghan did, but that “Mr Knauf did not suggest any specific wording”.

Andrew Caldecott QC, representing ANL, said in written submissions that it was “a matter of regret” that Mr Knauf’s lawyers had not said he was not an author of the letter before the summary judgment hearing in January.

When Mr Knauf’s lawyers told ANL that he was not a co-author, the publisher “swiftly recognised the impact of the information in that letter upon part of its copyright defence… and indicated that it would not oppose summary judgment”, Mr Caldecott said.

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