Update!

Meghan Markle Wins Another Legal Victory Against British Tabloid Over Letter to Dad

In a statement about the legal outcome, Meghan Markle said, "This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right."

By Corinne Heller, Elyse Dupre Dec 02, 2021 2:09 PMTags
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UPDATE: Meghan Markle has just secured another legal victory in her case against a British media company over the publishing of excerpts from a letter she wrote to her estranged father Thomas Markle.

On Dec. 2, the Court of Appeal in London dismissed Associated Newspapers Limited's appeal to overturn a ruling issued in February that was found in the Duchess of Sussex's favor. 

Meghan sued Associated Newspapers Limited for misuse of private information, breach of duties under data protection legislation and copyright infringement after portions of a five-page letter she wrote to her father in 2018 were published in its outlets Mail on Sunday and MailOnline in 2019. The High Court judge found Meghan "had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the Letter would remain private." As a result, the judge wrote in a summary that "the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful" and that "there is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial."

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Associated Newspapers Limited attempted to have a trial. But in the Dec. 2 judgment, these efforts were rejected and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision that the "contents of the Letter were private and concerned personal matters that were not matters of legitimate public interest." 

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In a statement, Meghan said, "This is a victory not just for me, but for anyone who has ever felt scared to stand up for what's right." 

"While this win is precedent setting, what matters most is that we are now collectively brave enough to reshape a tabloid industry that conditions people to be cruel, and profits from the lies and pain that they create," she continued. "From day one, I have treated this lawsuit as an important measure of right versus wrong. The defendant has treated it as a game with no rules. The longer they dragged it out, the more they could twist facts and manipulate the public (even during the appeal itself), making a straightforward case extraordinarily convoluted in order to generate more headlines and sell more newspapers—a model that rewards chaos above truth. In the nearly three years since this began, I have been patient in the face of deception, intimidation, and calculated attacks."

She added, "Today, the courts ruled in my favor—again—cementing that The Mail on Sunday, owned by Lord Jonathan Rothermere, has broken the law. The courts have held the defendant to account, and my hope is that we all begin to do the same. Because as far removed as it may seem from your personal life, it's not. Tomorrow it could be you. These harmful practices don't happen once in a blue moon—they are a daily fail that divide us, and we all deserve better."

A spokesperson for Associated Newspapers Limited also issued a statement in reaction to the court's decision. "We are very disappointed by the decision of the Court of Appeal," it read. "It is our strong view that judgment should be given only on the basis of evidence tested at trial, and not on a summary basis in a heavily contested case, before even disclosure of documents."

The organization claimed "no evidence has been tested in cross-examination, as it should be, especially when Mr. Knauf's evidence raises issues as to the Duchess's credibility."

In a November hearing, Associated Newspapers Limited's legal team brought forth communications between Jason Knauf, Meghan and Prince Harry's former communication secretary, and the duchess and argued she wrote the letter to her father knowing it could be leaked. According to the Press Association, the court also heard that Knauf provided information to the authors of Finding Freedom, a book about the Sussexes, with Meghan's knowledge. Reps for the couple previously said Meghan and Harry "did not contribute to Finding Freedom."

Meghan later apologized to the court, noting she "had not remembered these exchanges" regarding the book and that she "had absolutely no wish or intention to mislead the Defendant or the Court." The Court of Appeal determined, "This was, at best, an unfortunate lapse of memory on her part, but it does not seem to me to bear on the issues raised in the grounds of appeal, and it has been given no prominence in Associated Newspapers' oral argument."

Associated Newspapers Limited also continued to stand by its publishing of the letter excerpts. "After People magazine published an attack on Mr Markle, based on false briefings from the Duchess's friends wrongly describing the letter as a loving letter, it was important to show that the letter was no such thing," it added in its statement. "Both the letter and People magazine also seriously misrepresented the reasons for Mr Markle's non-attendance at the royal wedding. The articles corrected these matters, and raised other issues of public interest including the reasons for the breakdown in the relationship between the Duchess and her father. We are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court in the United Kingdom."

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Meghan Markle has won another victory against a British tabloid after filing a lawsuit over its publication of excerpts from a private letter she wrote her estranged father.

On Wednesday, May 5, a London High Court judge issued a summary judgment in the Duchess of Sussex's favor regarding an outstanding issue of who owns copyright to the five-page, handwritten letter.

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The Mail on Sunday published parts of it in February 2019. The letter was provided by Meghan's dad, Thomas Markle. She wrote it in August 2018, two months after her and Prince Harry's wedding, which he did not attend due to illness. Thomas had told the U.K. tabloid The Sun, which was not part of the lawsuit, that the last time he spoke to his daughter was in a phone call just after the nuptials.

In fall 2019, the duchess sued the newspaper's publisher, Associated Newspapers Limited, over the publication of the letter excerpts, seeking damages for misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act of 2018. She won most of her lawsuit this past February. The High Court judge issued a summary judgment in Meghan's favor of her claim for misuse of private information, saying the duchess "had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the Letter would remain private."

In March, the High Court ordered ANL to pay Meghan 90% of her estimated $1.88 million in legal expenses. She was awarded 450,000 pounds ($625,000) as an interim payment. In his latest judgment, the judge ordered the publisher to pay the remaining 10% of her estimated legal expenses.

The judge wrote at the time that the issue of copyright ownership of the letter was still outstanding due to possible involvement of senior aides. In the past, the publisher's lawyers argued that the letter was co-authored by Jason Knauf, Harry and Meghan's former communications secretary, and that it was possible the Crown could own the copyright.

But ultimately, no royal aides nor any royals themselves claimed ownership of the letter. At Wednesday's hearing, Meghan's attorney said Jason's lawyers confirmed he "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," adding, "In our client's view, it was the duchess's letter alone," Sky News reported.

Meghan's lawyer have also claimed in past filings for the case that the duchess first wrote a draft of the letter on her iPhone and shared it with Harry and Jason "for support, as this was a deeply painful process that they had lived through with her." Meghan's attorney told the court on Wednesday that Jason had "suggested that a reference to Mr Markle's ill-health be included," which she did, but that he "did not suggest any specific wording."

The publisher's lawyer said at the hearing on Wednesday that it was a "matter of regret" that Jason had not made clear he was not the author of the letter sooner and that as soon as the company heard his account, it indicated it would not oppose summary judgment in this case, BBC News reported.

The outlet added that ANL is still trying to appeal the judge's February ruling. The group is also appealing an order stemming from that decision that states The Mail on Sunday must publish a front-page statement about Meghan winning her copyright claim against the newspaper.

(This story was originally published May 6, 2021 at 2:05 p.m. PST).

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