Meghan wins copyright claim against Mail on Sunday over letter

Duchess granted summary judgment after lawyers argue publisher advanced its defence dishonestly

The Duchess of Sussex has won her copyright claim over a personal letter to her estranged father, which, the high court heard, she had drafted on her iPhone and worked on for many hours before transcribing by hand.

Meghan shared the draft with Prince Harry and a senior Kensington Palace aide, Jason Knauf, “as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her”, her lawyer said.

Allegations by the Mail on Sunday, which printed extracts of the letter, that Knauf could have joint copyright were advanced dishonestly by the publisher, Lord Justice Warby heard as he granted summary judgment in Meghan’s favour over the rest of her copyright claim.

Knauf, then the Kensington Palace communications secretary, “did not draft and has never claimed to have drafted” any part of the letter, and “would never have asserted copyright”, his lawyers submitted, adding: “In our client’s view, it was the duchess’s letter alone.”

In a remote hearing in Meghan’s long-running case against Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL), her counsel Ian Mill QC said the publisher had advanced the argument that Knauf could have part-written the letter with “no honest belief” that this was so, and in the knowledge that it “did not have the material it needed” to successfully defend its case.

Asking for summary judgment in the copyright claim, Mill told the judge: “She [Meghan] and she alone created the electronic draft, which she then transcribed by hand so as to create the letter.’ Knauf had contributed only ideas, as opposed to actual wording.

Meghan was previously granted summary judgment in her privacy claim and most of her copyright claim against ANL in February. ANL is seeking an appeal.

Mill said ANL’s copyright defence had had “no prospect of success” and it had pleaded a case it knew could not be true. The publisher had also sought to “litigate the case through the media” by publishing a front-page article in the Daily Mail headlined: “Palace press officer ‘helped Meghan write THAT letter to dad’.”

ANL previously said it believed Knauf was a co-author, which it argued meant the letter belonged to the crown. But the judge heard that lawyers for the keeper of the privy purse, acting on behalf of the Queen, had told Meghan’s solicitors they “did not consider the crown to be the copyright owner”.

Andrew Caldecott QC, for ANL, said the case that Knauf could have helped write an electronic draft of the letter had not been “fanciful”. The Mail on Sunday’s editor, Ted Verity, had had a face-to-face meeting with a “senior member of the royal household”, known only as “Source U”, who said the letter had gone through many drafts. There was “not a shred of evidence that this confidential source did not exist,” Caldecott said.

ANL’s lawyers had given Knauf the opportunity to say he did not help draft the letter before the publisher submitted its amended defence containing the allegations, but “answer came there none”, said Caldecott. He said this was “a matter of regret”.

Meghan, 39, sued ANL over a series of articles that reproduced parts of the handwritten letter sent to Thomas Markle, 76, in August 2018. She claimed that 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 question of damages will be addressed at future hearings.


Caroline Davies

The GuardianTramp

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