The Duchess of Sussex’s legal battle with the publisher of the Mail on Sunday has been ongoing since October 2019. But today a judge announced his decision over part of the case, ruling that Meghan has won a summary judgement when it comes to the misuse of private information and copyright infringement. However, Mr. Justice Warby also ruled that when it comes to the issue of who owns the copyright, this would need to be tested at trial, meaning that royal staff could be asked to give evidence over who contributed to the creation of the work.
“The claimant had a reasonable expectation that the contents of the Letter would remain private. The Mail Articles interfered with that reasonable expectation,” the judgement reads. But it continues, saying that when it comes to aspects of copyright, the case was “unsuitable for summary judgement.” The conclusion reads:
“There will be summary judgment for the claimant on the claim for misuse of private information, and on the issues I have identified in the claim for copyright infringement. A hearing or hearings will need to be fixed for the determination of the remaining issues in the copyright claim and for the determination of what remedies should be granted.”
Meghan issued a passionate statement following the judgement, saying she was “grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers and The Mail on Sunday to account for their illegal and dehumanizing practices.” She went on to say: “These tactics (and those of their sister publications MailOnline and the Daily Mail) are not new; in fact, they’ve been going on for far too long without consequence. For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness. The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.” She also said that she hopes the case creates “legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years.”
Meghan concluded: “I share this victory with each of you—because we all deserve justice and truth, and we all deserve better.”
The Duchess announced she was taking legal action against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday in October 2019 following her royal tour of South Africa. The case has taken many twists and turns and seen much personal information about Meghan’s relationship with her father Thomas Markle put into the public domain including text messages sent in the run-up to her May 2018 wedding. The Mail on Sunday published parts of her handwritten letter to him in February 2019 after its existence was revealed by her anonymous friend during an interview with People magazine.
In his judgement on privacy, Mr. Justice Warby determined:
“The only tenable justification for any such interference was to correct some inaccuracies about the Letter contained in the People Article. On an objective review of the Articles in the light of the surrounding circumstances, the inescapable conclusion is that, save to a very limited extent, the disclosures made were not a necessary or proportionate means of serving that purpose. For the most part they did not serve that purpose at all. Taken as a whole the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful. There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial. The interference with freedom of expression which those conclusions represent is a necessary and proportionate means of pursuing the legitimate aim of protecting the claimant’s privacy.”
On copyright he pointed out that a trial over who the copyright belongs to "could have consequences as to the extent to which the claimant can establish infringement of her copyright, and the remedies she can recover." However, he added: "There is no room for doubt that the defendant’s conduct involved an infringement of copyright in the Electronic Draft of which the claimant was the owner or, at worst, a co-owner."
A spokesperson for Associated Newspapers Ltd said: "We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial. We are carefully considering the judgment’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal."