The Duchess of Sussex has won the outstanding part of her copyright claim against the publisher of The Mail On Sunday over the publication of a handwritten letter to her estranged father.
She sued Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL), the publisher of The Mail On Sunday and Mail Online, over a series of articles that reproduced parts of a handwritten letter sent to Thomas Markle in August 2018.
She claimed that the articles misused her private information, infringed her copyright and breached the Data Protection Act.
In February the High Court granted the duchess, 39, summary judgment in relation to her privacy claim, meaning that she won that part of the case without having to go to trial, as well as most of her copyright claim.
At a remote hearing today, Lord Justice Warby granted summary judgment in relation to the remaining parts of the duchess’s copyright claim, after the Queen’s lawyers said that the letter did not belong to the Crown.
ANL had previously argued that Jason Knauf – formerly communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – was a co-author of the letter, which it said meant that the letter belonged to the Crown.
However, the High Court heard today that Knauf “emphatically” denied writing the letter.
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The duchess’s lawyer, Ian Mill QC, said that she “shared a draft” of the letter with Harry and her communications secretary “for support, as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her”.
He told the court that Knauf “suggested that a reference to Mr Markle’s ill-health be included”, which the duchess did, but that “Mr Knauf did not suggest any specific wording”.
In the summary judgment ruling in February, Lord Justice Warby said that the letter’s publication was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful” and added that the document was “personal and private”.
“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”, he added.
Justice Warby said of ANL’s decision to publish that “the only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the letter” made in an article in People magazine, published in the days previous to the Mail articles.
But the judge described the disclosures as “not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose”. He went on to say that “taken as a whole, the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.
He said that ANL’s arguments on ownership of the copyright of the letter “seem to me to occupy the shadowland between improbability and unreality”.
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 that it “infringed her copyright” by publishing the letter. It was later ruled that these did not have to be placed as prominently in the paper as the letter had been.
The hearing before Lord Justice Warby is expected to conclude on Wednesday afternoon.
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