Outside of the major decisions that have far-reaching national impact, many of the cases that the Supreme Court deigns to hear can range from pedestrian to the downright dull to the interest of the average citizen. Broadly speaking, most people only concern themselves with the law only in so far as it relates to them and their personal lives, as well as the legal tenants that are understood and accepted on a societal level. Occasionally, though, news from the nation's high court turns up a case that draws interest beyond the devoted court observers, particularly if the case involves a pirate ship.
The Supreme Court has decided to hear a case brought by a man named Rick Allen and his Nautilus Productions against the state of North Carolina for infringing upon work that Allen filed with the U. S Copyright Office. Allen and his company recorded video of the wreck of the pirate ship Queen Anne's Revenge, and in 2013 he claimed infringement on the part of North Carolina, alleging that the state had posted images of the wreck that he captured on its website. The state settled with Allen for $15,000, but soon thereafter there was once again a set of videos and images of the wreck on the state website, which prompted a lawsuit.
The North Carolina legislature, in what is either a case of near-miraculous serendipity or naked self-preservation, then passed a law declaring all photos and videos documenting wrecked vessels as public domain, thus seemingly removing any means of recourse from Mr. Allen. Fortunately, the case happens to fall within the bounds of what is a thorny legal issue that the Supreme Court has to rule upon.
The broader precept at issue in the case is a particular law that allows citizens to bring lawsuits against a state in cases involving intellectual property, a law that stands athwart the Eleventh Amendment, which prohibits citizens from bringing a lawsuit against states in federal court. The ruling could have a far-reaching effect, with a ruling in favor of North Carolina essentially paving the way for states to infringe upon intellectual property rights without fear of having to make restitution to the aggrieved parties.
The case should be a concerning matter for those concerned about intellectual property rights. We rely upon government bodies to uphold and enforce our laws, including intellectual property laws, and yet how can private citizens reasonably expect accountability if states are held to be unaccountable, or expect fairness when states are considered above reproach? The Supreme Court ruling will ultimately determine if the rights of citizens are valued more than the power of states.