Queen denies holding any copyright over controversial letter Meghan Markle wrote to her father

·Royal Correspondent
·5 min read
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duchess of Sussex arrive to visit Storyhouse Chester, where they will be taken on a tour of the building before unveiling a plaque to mark the official opening. (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)
The Queen and the Duchess of Sussex at Storyhouse Chester, in 2018. The Queen doesn't claim any copyright over the letter Meghan wrote to her father. (Martin Rickett/PA Images)

The Queen has denied any copyright claim over a letter Meghan Markle wrote to her father in the months after her wedding to Prince Harry, a court has heard.

Meghan sued Mail On Sunday and MailOnline publisher Associated Newspapers Ltd (ANL) for printing extracts of a letter she sent to her father Thomas in summer 2018.

ANL claimed that because Meghan was offered some suggestions for the letter's content by Jason Knauf, who was at the time part of her staff team, the Crown might hold some copyright claim.

But as the case returned to the High Court on Wednesday, Buckingham Palace said the Queen did not want to have any copyright claim in the case.

Papers filed by Meghan's lawyers said: "Farrer & Co confirmed, on behalf of its client the Keeper of the Privy Purse acting on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, that its client did not consider the Crown to be the copyright owner (whether in part or sole) of the Electronic Draft."

Meghan claimed a "comprehensive" victory in February of this year when she was given a summary judgement that confirmed that her privacy had been unlawfully breached by publication of the letter in the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline.

LEICESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 28: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 24 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME) Jason Knauf, Communications Secretary to The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, accompanies Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on a visit to Leicester City Football Club's King Power Stadium to pay tribute to those people killed in the helicopter crash of October 27 on November 28, 2018 in Leicester, England. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Jason Knauf, previously communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, pictured in November 2018. (Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

Although that meant there did not need to be a trial of the issue, some matters were left outstanding, including whether Meghan was the sole author and therefore the sole copyright holder of the letter.

ANL claimed that Knauf helped with an electronic draft of the letter – as Meghan wrote down some of her thoughts in the notes section of her iPhone.

However in papers filed to the court, Knauf said he did not want to make any copyright claims over the letter.

The papers from Meghan's legal team said: "Mr Knauf was not an author of the Electronic Draft.

"It has never been his belief that he was an author of the Electronic Draft, nor has he ever suggested as much to anybody.

"He does not own any copyright in the Electronic Draft."

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Speaking in court on Wednesday, Lord Justice Warby said it meant Meghan was "bound to succeed" in her argument that she was the sole author of the letter.

He granted summary judgement in favour of Meghan.

Knauf said he suggested a comment related to Thomas Markle's health, but did not offer any wording.

Papers filed to court from Meghan's team said: "Mr Knauf suggested that a reference to Mr Markle’s ill-health be included. The Claimant accepted this advice, but Mr Knauf did not suggest any specific wording."

Knauf and Prince Harry read a draft of the letter before Meghan wrote it out by hand and sent it to her father, from whom she is estranged.

ANL's court papers raised questions about why Knauf had "taken so long to come forward with this information", saying it had asked in September 2020 for him to explain what part he might have had in the writing of the letter.

However Meghan's lawyers said ANL was told in November 2020 that it was "unlikely" Knauf would support them in their copyright claim. 

Meghan's father, who now lives in Mexico, was meant to walk her down the aisle when she married at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle in May 2018.

But he did not make it to the UK, because he had heart surgery and said he had been advised not to fly.

Since then he and his daughter have been estranged, with Markle Snr conducting interviews at various stages asking that Meghan make contact with him.

WINDSOR, ENGLAND - MAY 19:  (L-R) Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex leave Windsor Castle in the Ascot Landau carriage during a procession after getting married at St Georges Chapel on May 19, 2018 in Windsor, England. Prince Henry Charles Albert David of Wales marries Ms. Meghan Markle in a service at St George's Chapel inside the grounds of Windsor Castle. Among the guests were 2200 members of the public, the royal family and Ms. Markle's mother, Doria Ragland.  (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
Harry and Meghan after their wedding in May 2018. Meghan was meant to be walked down the aisle by her father. (George Pimentel/WireImage)

He previously said he asked ANL to report on the letter she had written to him because he felt he needed to give his side of the story when some of Meghan's friends gave an interview to People magazine about her.

Meghan has always denied knowing her friends were speaking to the magazine.

The hearing on Wednesday was held remotely, with parties dialling into a video conference. The time difference meant the hearing began at 2.30am Los Angeles time.

The hearing was also due to deal with financial issues and the remedy to Meghan from ANL. The duchess previously requested details of how much money was made from the printing of her letter, but ANL has said this is hard to work out based on the way advertising works and print sales.

ANL's lawyers have asked to keep a record of the letter in their archive.

At a date to be set, ANL will have to run front page news on the decision of the ruling of the judge, and put a notice on its website about what happened. However this has been delayed while ANL appeals.

In February, Lord Justice Warby granted a summary judgement in Meghan's case, meaning most of the issues did not need to go to full trial.

He said the amount of the letter that was printed by the Mail On Sunday and MailOnline in February 2019 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."

Lord Justice Warby will give a written judgement following Wednesday's hearing, but did not say when he would be able to release it.

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