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Duchess of Sussex (Meghan Markle) wins copyright claim

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The Duchess of Sussex (Megan) sued the Mail on Sunday’s Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) in April 2020 over alleged misuse of private information, infringement of copyright and breach of the 2018 Data Protection Act. The Mail on Sunday published five articles online and in print in February 2019 that reproduced parts of a private letter she sent to her father, Thomas Markel.

ANL’s lawyers had argued that the former communications secretary to the Sussexes (Jason Knauf) had co-authored the letter and as such the copyright belonged to the Crown.

In February 2021 Megan won the majority of her claim with a court decision. Lord Justice Warby issued a summary judgement stating the paper misused her private information which stated:

“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.”

All that remained was the question of authors.

During a recent remote High Court hearing in England and Wales the matter was decided.

Generally, the first owner of copyright work is the author. However, if the author is an employee acting in the course of their employment, then the employer is the first owner. Sometimes, a piece of copyright work can have multiple authors.

ANL tried to argue that Jason Knauf was the co-author acting in the course of his employment and as such the Crown was the copyright owner.

On 5 May 2021, the High Court heard that Jason Knauf has denied being a co-author and that lawyers “acting on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen” told Meghan’s lawyers they “did not consider the Crown to be the copyright owner”.

Therefore, Megan has won the remaining part of her claim. Lord Justice Warby granted summary judgment in relation the remaining parts of her claim.

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