The U.S. Supreme Court has sided unanimously with the State of North Carolina that publication of videos and photos of a private salvage operation of a shipwreck is not a copyright infringement. Even though federal law protects certain copyrighted materials, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that states are immune from some private copyright laws under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The ship named the “Queen Anne’s Revenge” was famously captained by the legendary pirate Blackbeard and wrecked some 300 years ago in North Carolina waters near Beaufort. North Carolina owns the shipwreck and its artifacts.
In 2013, North Carolina paid $15,000 to publish some photos and videos from the salvage effort. Then in 2015 North Carolina passed the “Blackbeard Law” legalizing the publication and publishing of more materials from the salvage effort, moving them into the public domain. This caused the salvage company, Nautilus Productions, LLC, to sue alleging illegal pirating of their work.
North Carolina, therefore, did not pirate the materials as alleged. All’s well that ends well on the high seas of copyright laws, or not.