Meghan Markle wins copyright claim over handwritten letter to estranged dad

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

The Duchess of Sussex sued publisher Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) over a series of articles which reproduced parts of a handwritten letter sent to her dad Thomas Markle in August 2018.

Meghan, 39, and her father, 76, have been estranged since before her wedding to Prince Harry in May 2018.

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

Lord Justice Warby granted summary judgment at the High Court in relation to the remaining part of her copyright claim on Wednesday.

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

Lawyers acting on behalf of the Queen said the letter did not belong to the Crown. ANL had tried to argue it did because it believed Jason Knauf – formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – was a co-author of the letter.

Mr Knauf "emphatically" denied being a co-author.

Ian Mill QC, for Meghan, said that 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 that 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.

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"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 that 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".

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Andrew Caldecott QC, representing the publisher, 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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In February, Lord Justice Warby said the publication of Meghan's letter was "manifestly excessive and hence unlawful".

He said: "It was, in short, a personal and private letter.

"The majority of what was published was about the claimant's own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father's behaviour, as she saw it, and the resulting rift between them.

"These are inherently private and personal matters."

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In March, the publisher was ordered to print a statement on the front page of the Mail On Sunday and a notice on page three of the paper stating it "infringed her copyright" by publishing parts of the letter to Mr Markle.

Lord Justice Warby later ruled that the statement did not have to be published "in the same position, and be in the same size font, as the front-page trailer complained of".

But the front-page statement about Meghan's victory in her copyright claim was put on hold, to allow ANL time to seek permission to appeal.

The hearing before Lord Justice Warby is expected to conclude on Wednesday afternoon.

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