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Pirates Old and New Appear Before the US Supreme Court

March 27, 2020


In a case involving a modern form of piracy, the US Supreme Court handed down a decision last week involving Edward Teach, better known as the notorious pirate, Captain Blackbeard.

In 1717, Blackbeard captured a French slave ship known as La Concorde, renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge, and set about building his now famous reputation for piracy. Just a year later (and long before passage planning was conceived!), the ship ran aground on a shoal off the coast of North Carolina, sank, and lay hidden for almost 300 years until discovered by marine salvors in 1996. The salvors hired a photographer, Frederick Allen, to document the salvage operations. He took photographs and videos of the divers recovering what was left of the ship Blackbeard had stolen. When the state of North Carolina began publishing Allen’s photos and videos without permission, he sued it for copyright infringement, a modern form of piracy. The State agreed that it had helped itself to Allen’s works, but claimed sovereign immunity in federal copyright infringement lawsuits. The Supreme Court agreed and, in a case of old meets new, the State was permitted to pirate Allen’s photos of the pirated ship.