In a court ruling, Meghan Markle has been deemed the sole author of the "private and confidential" letter sent to her dad, Thomas Markle, in August 2018

By Phil Boucher
May 05, 2021 12:40 PM
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Meghan Markle just won the latest round of her two-and-a-half-year legal battle against Associated Newspapers — publisher of the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online — over the publication of a handwritten letter to her dad, Thomas Markle, 76.

A remote hearing at the High Court in London on Wednesday ruled that Meghan, 39, owns the sole copyright to the letter, which she sent to her dad in August 2018, just three months after her wedding to Prince Harry.

Lawyers for Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) had previously claimed that former Kensington Palace communications chief Jason Knauf owned part of the copyright as he had seen an early version of the letter and played a role in its drafting.

That assertion was dropped on Wednesday, however, after it was revealed that Knauf had "emphatically" denied co-writing the letter. Lawyers representing "the Keeper of the Privy Purse, acting on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen" also told Meghan's lawyers they "did not consider the Crown to be the copyright owner." 

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex
Meghan Markle
| Credit: Samir Hussein/WireImage
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry
| Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty

"Mr. Knauf did not draft, and has never claimed to have drafted, any parts of the electronic draft or the letter," Meghan's lawyers stated in official court documents released Wednesday, adding that the Duchess of Sussex wrote the letter using the Notes application on her iPhone "around the first week of August 2018."

It did, however, reveal that Meghan had shared the draft with Prince Harry and Jason Knauf "for support, as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her and because Mr Knauf was responsible for keeping the senior members of the royal household apprised of any public-facing issues."

While Knauf provided "general ideas" suggesting that the Duchess include a mention of her father's ill health in the letter, the correspondence "was the Duchess's letter alone," the documents add.

Meghan first sued Associated Newspapers in September 2019 for publishing extracts of the "private and confidential" letter to her dad in five articles published both in print and online in February 2019.

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Jason Knauf and Prince Harry
| Credit: Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock

In February she scored a major legal win when High Court Judge Mark Warby ruled that Meghan "had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private," adding "The Mail articles interfered with that reasonable expectation."

Judge Warby also ruled that the Mail had infringed on the copyright in the letter, leaving the question of whether the Duchess of Sussex was the sole owner of the copyright open — a point pressed by the Mail, but which the judge described as occupying "the shadowland between improbability and unreality."

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In March, Warby also awarded Meghan $625,000 in legal costs over her privacy and copyright infringement claim against Associated Newspapers, as part of a wider judgment ordering the newspaper group to pay 90% of Meghan's estimated $1.88 million legal expenses for the case.

On Thursday, Warby added to this by ordering the Mail to pay the remaining 10% of Meghan's court costs.

Associated Newspapers lawyer Andrew Caldecott did not oppose Wednesday's ruling. In a written submission he added that it was "a matter of regret" to the newspaper publisher that Knauf had not previously clarified his role in the drafting of the letter.

Caldecott added that once the publisher had become aware of Knauf's declaration their legal team had "swiftly recognized the impact of the information" and indicated that it would not oppose a judgment.