The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of states’ rights and against a videographer who claimed copyright infringement, after spending 20 years documenting an infamous vessel’s salvaging operation. The ship in question was a French slave ship that Blackbeard, the notorious pirate, captured in 1717 and renamed The Queen Anne’s Revenge.
For this copyright case, this decision by the highest court focused on copyright law rather than piracy on the high seas. The court ruled that Frederick Allen, who was hired by the marine salvage company, Intersal, Inc., to film their salvage operations, could not sue the state of North Carolina, which started posting his photographs online without his permission and without paying royalties. They paid him for one infringement, but then continued to post his materials.
Even though he copyrighted his work and took a “considerable risk” in documenting the salvaging efforts off the North Carolina coast, the court pointed to several precedents over the last quarter-century in which justices have forbidden lawsuits brought by individuals against sovereign states without the Supreme Court’s permission. In the end, the court ruled unanimously against Allen and in favor of the state of North Carolina’s immunity from these types of federal lawsuits.