Justices Hear Copyright Case Involving Pirate Ship

November 5, 2019 by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court  traded “Oyez!” for “Ahoys” Tuesday morning as they grappled with a modern-day dispute over the pirate Blackbeard’s flagship.

The Queen Anne’s Revenge went down off North Carolina’s coast more than 300 years ago and lay buried and undisturbed in shallow waters until it was discovered in 1996.

The case before the court on Tuesday was not over the vessel itself and any treasure it may or may not hold, but rather over the copyrights associated with photos and videos that documented the ship’s recovery.

Underwater photographer Rick Allen, whose company captured the footage, says he holds the copyrights to the material and that the state should pay for using them in promotional and other materials.

But Ryan Park, North Carolina’s deputy solicitor general, argued on Tuesday that federal law prohibits copyright infringement lawsuits against states.

Allen has spent the last 20 years recording video as researchers explore the remains of The Queen Anne’s Revenge, which Blackbeard, whose given name was Edward Teach, ran aground near present day Beaufort Inlet, N.C., in May 1718.

The pirates and his men abandoned the ship and transferred to smaller boats to hide in the state’s inland waters.

Allen argues that North Carolina has pirated his media content ever since – posting it on various state websites without paying him.

His attorney, Derek Shaffer told the justices Tuesday that they should side with Allen, otherwise they risk making private property rights irrelevant.

The case is Allen, et al. v. Roy A Cooper, III, Governor of North Carolina, et al. No 18-877.

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