Supreme Court hears case involving pirate Blackbeard's ship

Supreme Court hears case involving pirate Blackbeard's ship
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a copyright case involving the rights to archival materials documenting the recovery of the infamous pirate Blackbeard's ship.

In 1998, a production company, Nautilus, began the nearly two-decade task of documenting the salvaging of the recently discovered ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, which ran aground off the North Carolina coast some three centuries ago.

A legal dispute surfaced years later when the state of North Carolina used the company’s archival materials without permission.


In response to Nautilus’s demands that the material be taken down, the state legislature passed a law which converted photographs and videos of shipwrecks into public records, which voided a prior agreement between the filmmakers and the state. Nautilus and the company’s owner, Frederick Allen, sued.

The issue before the Supreme Court in Allen v. Cooper concerns the constitutionality of a federal law that appears to give copyright holders the right to sue states, despite a longstanding legal doctrine that generally makes states immune from such litigation in federal courts.

The justices are expected to reach a decision by late spring.