DATE PUBLISHED: 18 Mar 2021 LAST UPDATED: 18 Mar 2021

Some Press Redress for the Duchess of Sussex

No doubt heads are still spinning from the concerns raised by the Duchess of Sussex in THAT interview with Oprah last week. With so much coverage of the interview hitting the headlines, an important legal victory for Meghan Markle against Associated Newspapers Limited (ANL) has been somewhat overlooked.

Meghan claimed ANL misused her private information, breached her data protection rights and were liable for copyright infringement when ANL published the extracts of a handwritten letter from the Duchess to her father in The Mail on Sunday and Mail Online, both published by ANL.

On 11 February 2021, the High Court issued a Summary Judgment in favour of the Duchess, deciding that there was liability on ANL for misuse of private information. The Court found that there was “reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private” and the publication of the article interfered with that expectation. It also found that the publication of the extracts of the letter constituted infringement of the Duchess’ copyright.

On 5th March 2021, the High Court issued a follow up judgment (here) in which the remedy of a declaration from ANL was discussed in detail. The Duchess had requested a public declaration from ANL to reflect the Summary Judgment, however this was objected to by ANL as no doubt they did not want to admit publicly they had done anything wrong. The Court found that ANL had “not identified any “special reason” against the grant of a declaration. It has not pointed to any form of harm or detriment to itself or to the public interest if I grant a declaration”. The Court decided that “it is appropriate in all circumstances of this case to make an order … that reflects the claimant’s success on the specific issues in the copyright claim that I have resolved in her favour…”.

The Court ruled that the Duchess’ “win” must be acknowledged and published in The Mail on Sunday and Mail Online in the following terms:

The Duchess of Sussex

Following a hearing on 10-20 January 2021, the Court has given judgment for The Duchess of Sussex on her claim for copyright infringement. The Court found that Associated Newspapers infringed her copyright by publishing extracts of her handwritten letter to her father in The Mail on Sunday and in Mail Online. …”

The damages payable to the Duchess and the data protection aspects of her claim will be decided upon at a further hearing, expected to take place later this year. Additionally, the matter of whether the Duchess is the exclusive owner of the copyright in the letter will also be determined, as ANL argued that the Crown owned part of the copyright. ANL’s application to the High Court for permission to appeal was rejected as having “no real prospects of success”.

Businesses should be cautious about publishing or posting on social media another person’s material as it may be subject to privacy laws and the material may be protected by copyright. Before any information is published, it is vital that organisations seek legal advice. Not only could the actions of a business have legal and costly consequences, but the reputational damage could be priceless.

If you would like to speak with us about a copyright query then please contact Abigail Sinden or a member of our Intellectual Property Team. You can find out more about our copyright services on our copyright page.

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