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The invasion of privacy complaint, which was filed in L.A. County Superior Court, claims Archie was photographed in the backyard of the family’s Beverly Hills home, which is in a gated community.
The couple does not know who took the shots, and the lawsuit invokes a California law which states that it is illegal to use devices like drones and telephoto lenses to photograph people within their homes.
Harry and Meghan have launched the lawsuit, the complaint reads, because of “serial intrusions on the privacy of a 14-month-old child in his own home, and the desire and responsibility of any parent to do what is necessary to protect their children from this manufactured feeding frenzy.”
The Daily Beast was the first publication to report in May that Harry and Meghan had reported multiple drone incidents to the LAPD. A source told us that the couple had been coping with “unimaginable” levels of press intrusion at their temporary new home.
The lawsuit claims that “some media outlets have flown drones a mere 20 feet above the house as often as three times a day.” Helicopters have been spotted hovering above the property throughout the day, and damage has allegedly been done to the property's fencing.
The lawsuit claims that the photos are being shopped as if they were taken in Malibu, but the couple says Archie has never been there, or indeed out in public. Meghan and Harry are suing a series of unnamed “John Doe” defendants, and may use subpoenas against agencies or individuals trying to sell the photos.
“Every individual and family member in California is guaranteed by law the right to privacy in their home,” Michael J. Kump, the couple’s attorney and partner at Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP, said in a statement.
“No drones, helicopters or telephoto lenses can take away that right. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are filing this lawsuit to protect their young son’s right to privacy in their home without intrusion by photographers, and to uncover and stop those who seek to profit from these illegal actions.”
The complaint states: “The unscrupulous people shopping these photographs have not innocently mislabeled the photographs as having been taken in a public place. They have done so intentionally, because they know that unsolicited photographs of a young child in the privacy of his own home are very much unlawful.”
Kump writes, “The Plaintiffs have done everything in their power to stay out of the limelight except in connection with their work, which they freely admit is newsworthy. But the photos at issue are not news. They are not public interest. They are harassment. The sole point to taking and/or selling such invasive photos is to profit from a child.”
This Los Angeles lawsuit is the latest example of Meghan and Harry’s willingness to call in the lawyers in situations where the royals would usually fear to tread.
The couple currently has ongoing legal cases against Associated Newspapers, publishers of U.K. tabloid the Mail on Sunday, and in the past year have also launched high-profile actions against the Sun and the Daily Mirror, in relation to historic accusations of phone hacking.
It is believed that legal letters are regularly sent out to other publications too, and the couple recently suspended communication with a number of U.K. newspapers.
Earlier this week, Harry appeared to threaten another lawsuit after Graham Smith, the CEO and founder of the pressure group Republic which campaigns against the British monarchy, wrote to U.K. watchdog the Charity Commission asking them to take a closer look at the financial relationships between charities and companies associated with the young royals.
Smith, in his role as professional royal-baiter, is adept at pulling such moves. He has previously reported Prince Charles to the commission and once complained to the police after Prince Andrew was reported to have rammed some publicly owned park gates in Windsor Great Park on a late night home.
Typically, no action is taken on Smith’s complaints, but the mere fact of his complaining can make a story, which keeps the cause in the spotlight. Smith had apparently expected this latest letter to be greeted with silence or a restrained statement dismissing it.
But Harry and Meghan went on the attack. In the statement issued through their lawyers, they accused Republic of “salaciously” feeding “a hunger for media attention as well as a shared and attacking agenda, which is neither right nor just.”
Harry also accused the complaint by the group, which exists to campaign for a democratically elected head of state, of being “defamatory and insulting to all the incredible organizations and people he has partnered with.”
The statement appeared to threaten legal action against Republic, saying that Harry’s “charitable endeavors” are “transparent and above board. To suggest otherwise is unequivocally wrong and will be acted upon accordingly with the weight of the law.”
A source confirmed that this threat was directed at Republic.
When The Daily Beast called Smith this week to ask for his reaction to this blistering statement and threat of legal action, he was rather shell-shocked—and nervous about what might be coming down the pipe legally. But he also could barely hide his delight that journalists were ringing his phone off the hook.
Smith ran through the detail of his letter to the Commission, asking it to investigate whether William and Kate’s charity had violated charity regulations when it gave some $180,000 to Harry and Meghan’s foundation, and a similar sum to Harry’s Travalyst project, a charity which subsequently became a private company that promotes sustainable tourism.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Harry said: “All of The Duke’s charitable activities are fully transparent as well as compliant with Charity Commission guidelines, and moreover with his own moral compass.”
“The Duke has not, nor has he ever, had any personal financial interest in his charitable work. The interest has always been clear: to support others and to make a positive difference.”
For Republic, being attacked in this way counted as a definite coup. The mighty media clout of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle rocketed the tiny organization, albeit briefly, to the top of the global news feed.
Smith was appointed CEO of the organization 15 years ago. He draws a full time wage, and the society is funded by bequests and memberships, which he puts at “a few thousand.” Smith prefers to talk about a database of “supporters” which, he says, numbers up to 75,000.
Under Smith, who wearily concedes that Britain is not “on the eve of a republic,” their messaging became more consistent and professional, and Republic developed a reputation for staging protests at major royal events, which often got plenty of media coverage.
Complaining to the Charity Commission was a methodology that Smith used against Prince Charles in 2009, accusing the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment of unauthorized lobbying.
In that case Prince Charles took the traditional royal vow of silence and made no public comment. The complaint was reported on by the media, but not widely, and the allegation was subsequently rejected by the Charity Commission.
The British media have been quick to accuse the Sussexes of over-reacting to the Republic claim. Certainly it is true that people wouldn’t still be talking about what is essentially procedural detail of transactions between two charities, which are very unlikely not to have been properly handled, had they not reacted.
The royal biographer Penny Junor told The Daily Beast: “The royal family has very experienced advisers on their communications team, and when these accusations come along, they have been there before and they know what works. Sometimes, very rarely, it is legal action, but usually it is a very measured response.
“What we are seeing with Harry and Meghan is that they don’t have that measured team around them any more. They have said they will have ‘zero tolerance’ but responding in this way to these fatuous claims by Republic obviously makes things worse, as it gives Republic the oxygen of publicity. They have good advisers running these charities so it is extremely unlikely they will have broken the rules.”
Part of Republic’s complaint was that the grant to Travalyst was effectively a gift to a private company.
Lady Colin Campbell, whose book Meghan and Harry: The Real Story is published next week, told The Daily Beast: “The reason why royals are not allowed to engage in commerce is because of the perception that chicanery can be going on. Harry, by turning Travalyst from a charitable entity into an LLC, invited suspicion. It is precisely why royals are not allowed to do what Harry and Meghan are allowed to do. It is to be expected that anti-monarchists would make hay out of this sort of thing.”
Harry and Meghan’s team declined to comment to The Daily Beast on their media or legal strategy. However, the couple have made it clear they don’t intend to be swayed from this aggressive new way of dealing, legally, with perceived unfairness.
The strategy will of course reach its apogee when Meghan is cross-examined in court when her case against the publishers of the Mail on Sunday reaches the High Court, probably early next year.
Interestingly, an insight into Meghan’s more aggressive approach to the media was contained in a recent filing she made as part of that case.
Meghan said that she was “unprotected by the institution” of the British monarchy and was “prohibited from defending herself” in the face of media attacks on her when she was part of the royal family.
In a swipe at the Kensington Palace communications team who represented her, Meghan’s lawyers say, “It was mandated by the KP Communications Team that all friends and family of the Claimant should say ‘no comment’ when approached by any media outlet, despite misinformation being provided to UK tabloids about the Claimant… the people who knew her best were told that they needed to remain silent.”
It’s somewhat baffling to British eyes; the Daily Telegraph was far from alone in suggesting the retaliation would be counter-productive.
The media strategist and consultant Mark Borkowski disagrees. He said that while he suspects that the couple are “in a pretty deep bubble of folk around them supporting every last thing they do” with nobody “challenging” them, it was a misunderstanding to judge the success of failure of their strategy by the yardstick of conventional media coverage, especially in the U.K.
“They don’t care about the opinion of the fourth estate. They care about what their community and fans believe, and with the channels they access they are enjoying a lot of positive feedback. If they basically lose the territory of the U.K. and gain a territory like America, well, that is a positive for them.”
“They don’t see their future in the U.K. It doesn’t matter to them if the British media is selling this story of this mad, sad couple. They are not going to win any battles in the U.K. America is their home base now. This is about positioning their brand within the U.S. market.”
Essentially they are saying what Harry said to an imposter pretending to be Greta Thunberg: my wife’s a strong person and she won’t be bullied and silenced, and we will continue to “challenge” the media.
Asked by the fake “Greta” about the pressure of dealing with the media, he said that finding a wife who “was strong enough to be able to stand up for what we believe in together” had scared the tabloids “so much that they’ve now come out incredibly angry, they’ve come out fighting, and all they will try and do now is try and destroy our reputation and try (to) sink us. But what they don’t understand is the battle we are fighting against them is far more than just us.”
With the latest lawsuit against the paparazzi in Los Angeles, Harry and Meghan could not be more emphatic: this is a “battle” they are not only dead-set on fighting, but also determined to win.