On March 23, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a Fourth Circuit decision allowing state governments and their agents to infringe federal copyrights with impunity. The dispute arose from the discovery of Blackbeard’s sunken eighteenth-century flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina. After a private salvage-recovery firm hired videographer Frank Allen and his company to film and photograph the ship’s salvage, Allen created a large archive of video and still images documenting the recovery of the ship and its various artifacts. Allen promptly registered his works with the U.S. Copyright Office, but the State of North Carolina and its officials began infringing Allen’s copyrights by uploading the works and posting them online without permission. When Allen sued for copyright infringement, the Fourth Circuit held that North Carolina and its officers are immune from copyright liability under the Eleventh Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that Congress lacked authority to abrogate the States’ sovereign immunity from copyright infringement when it enacted the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act of 1990.


WLF 8/13/2019 amicus brief