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SCOTUS Settles Case Involving the Queen Anne's Revenge

North Carolina comes out on top in case related to Blackbeard's ship
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 23, 2020 12:08 PM CDT

(Newser) – The Supreme Court sided unanimously Monday with North Carolina in a copyright fight with a company that has documented the salvage of the pirate Blackbeard's ship off the state's coast. Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court that the company's copyright infringement lawsuit, which she called “a modern form of piracy," could not go forward because the Constitution generally protects states from lawsuits in federal courts. The 21st-century dispute arose over the Queen Anne's Revenge, which ran aground more than 300 years ago. The ship is the property of the state, but under an agreement, North Carolina-based Nautilus Productions has for nearly two decades documented the ship's salvage. In the process, the company copyrighted photos and videos, reports the AP.

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North Carolina first posted photos on a state website and later put videos on a YouTube channel and included a photo in a newsletter. Nautilus sued in federal court, but the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, ruled North Carolina could not be sued. The Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that states could not be sued in federal court over patent infringements. Patent and copyright protections come from the same constitutional provision that outlines Congress' powers. Kagan noted that the earlier case, known as Florida Prepaid, "all but prewrote our decision today." Among artifacts that have been brought to the surface are cannons and the anchor, but roughly 40% of the Queen Anne's Revenge remains on the ocean floor.

(Read more Blackbeard stories.)

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