U.S. Supreme Court Takes On Copyright Case Linked to Blackbeard Flagship

Updated: June 3, 2019


After the ship was discovered in the late 1990s, the state has since worked with Nautilus Productions, a firm which is owned by former WRAL News photographer Rick Allen, to document the long recovery of artifacts that were buried in sand and debris under 20 feet of seawater. In exchange for the work that Allen provided, he retained the copyright of the footage that was taken.


However, in 2015 Allen filed a federal lawsuit against the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, claiming that the agency violated his copyright and misused the footage by publishing it online without his consent.


Since then, the state has argued in front of a federal three-judge panel that it was protected from liability by sovereign immunity. Allen’s lawyers now seek to overturn that ruling, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court that a state agency can be held responsible for copyright infringement the same way any private entity would.


“The Constitution of the United States of America expressly empowers Congress to grant copyright holders ‘the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries,’  “Allen said in the statement Monday. “We look forward to making our case to the Supreme Court as to why it was within Congress’s constitutional authority to hold states liable for their acts of copyright infringement.”


Arguments in the case between Allen vs. Cooper have not yet been scheduled for the high court’s upcoming term, which is said to begin in October of 2019.