A US photo agency says it has refused to hand over pictures and video of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex taken in New York on Tuesday night during what the royal couple called a “near catastrophic” car chase by “a ring of highly aggressive paparazzi.”
Backgrid USA told CNN on Friday that it had responded to a letter from the Sussexes’ legal team, saying the copyrighted material belonged to the agency and the couple have no rights to it.
CNN has not seen the letter referred to by Backgrid.
The altercation involving the royals, and Meghan’s mother, Doria Ragland, became public on Wednesday after the couple’s spokesperson released a statement denouncing a “relentless pursuit” that “resulted in multiple near collisions involving other drivers on the road, pedestrians and two NYPD officers.”
Statements from the New York Police Department, the city’s mayor and a law enforcement source confirmed the outlines of the couple’s account of what happened after they left the Ms. Foundation’s Women of Vision Awards, where Meghan was being honored. However, the language used in statements was more restrained.
The NYPD simply said “numerous photographers” had “made their transport challenging” following their departure from the Ziegfeld Ballroom. New York City Mayor Eric Adams cast doubt on the couple’s two-hour time frame for the chase but added that, irrespective of length, the incident was “reckless” and “irresponsible.”
The photo agency told the BBC it had received a letter that read: “We hereby demand that Backgrid immediately provide us with copies of all photos, videos, and/or films taken last night by the freelance photographers after the couple left their event and over the next several hours.”
Backgrid told CNN its lawyers had written in response: “In America, as I’m sure you know, property belongs to the owner of it: Third parties cannot just demand it be given to them, as perhaps Kings can do.
“Perhaps you should sit down with your client and advise them that his English rules of royal prerogative to demand that the citizenry hand over their property to the Crown were rejected by this country long ago.
“We stand by our founding fathers.”
The Sussexes declined to comment on the matter when approached by CNN.
The California-based photo agency previously told CNN on Thursday that it was taking “Prince Harry’s allegations seriously” and would conduct an investigation following Tuesday’s car chase, despite photographers at the scene “feeling that the couple was not in immediate danger at any point.”
The Sussexes’ latest scuffle with the tabloid press sparked global rolling news coverage on Wednesday, with the incident echoing the circumstances that led to the death of Harry’s mother, Diana. The Princess of Wales died in 1997 after suffering internal injuries resulting from a high-speed car crash in Paris.
Harry has often spoken of the trauma of losing his mother when he was 12 and has previously shared how every camera flash takes him “straight back” to one of the worst moments of his life.
In the couple’s Netflix docuseries released last year, he reiterated what he saw as the parallels between his wife’s treatment by the media to that faced by his mother nearly three decades ago.
“Paparazzi still harass people,” he said in the second episode of the six-part series. “But the harassment really exists more online now. Once the photographs are out and the stories then put next to it, then comes the social media harassment. To see another woman in my life, who I love, go through this feeding frenzy – that’s hard. It is basically the hunter versus the prey.”
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CNN’s Max Foster contributed to this report.