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Allen v. Cooper

Supreme Court of the United States

November 5, 2019, Argued; March 23, 2020, Decided

No. 18-877.

Opinion

Justice Kagan delivered the opinion of the Court.

In two basically identical statutes passed in the early 1990s, Congress sought to strip the States of their sovereign immunity from patent and copyright infringement suits. Not long after, this Court held in Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. v. College Savings Bank, 527 U. S. 627, 119 S. Ct. 2199, 144 L. Ed. 2d 575 (1999), that the patent statute lacked a valid constitutional basis. Today, we take up the copyright statute. We find that our decision in Florida Prepaid compels the same conclusion.

In 1717, the pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, captured a French slave ship in the West Indies [**6]  and renamed her Queen Anne’s Revenge. The vessel became his flagship. Carrying some 40 cannons and 300 men, the Revenge took many prizes as she sailed around the Caribbean and  [*299]  up the North American coast. But her reign over those seas was short-lived. In 1718, the ship ran aground on a sandbar a mile off Beaufort, North Carolina. Blackbeard and most of his crew escaped without harm. Not so the Revenge. She sank beneath the waters, where she lay undisturbed for nearly 300 years.

In 1996, a marine salvage company named Intersal, Inc., discovered the shipwreck. Under federal and state law, the wreck belongs to North Carolina. See 102 Stat. 433, 43 U. S. C. §2105(c); N. C. Gen. Stat. Ann. §121-22 (2019). But the State contracted with Intersal to take charge of the recovery activities. Intersal in turn retained petitioner Frederick Allen, a local videographer, to document the operation. For over a decade, Allen created videos and photos of divers’ efforts to salvage the Revenge’s guns, anchors, and other remains. He registered copyrights in all those works.

This suit arises from North Carolina’s publication of some of Allen’s videos and photos. Allen first protested in 2013 that the State was infringing his copyrights by uploading his work to its website [**7]  without permission. To address that allegation, North Carolina agreed to a settlement paying Allen $15,000 and laying out the parties’ respective rights to the materials. But Allen and the State soon found themselves embroiled in another dispute. Allen complained that North Carolina had impermissibly posted five of his videos online and used one of his photos in a newsletter. When the State declined to admit wrongdoing, Allen filed this action in Federal District Court. It charges the State with copyright infringement (call it a modern form of piracy) and seeks money damages.

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206 L. Ed. 2d 291 *; 2020 U.S. LEXIS 1909 **; 140 S. Ct. 994; 28 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 71

FREDERICK L. ALLEN, ET AL., PETITIONERS v. ROY A. COOPER, III, GOVERNOR OF NORTH CAROLINA, ET AL.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [**1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Allen v. Cooper, 895 F.3d 337, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 18703 (4th Cir. N.C., July 10, 2018)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

abrogation, Patent, infringement, sovereign immunity, Remedy Act, suits, immunity, federal court, copyright infringement, due process, patent infringement, Hearings, remedies, Authors, intellectual property, private party, stare decisis, nonconsenting, sovereignty, courts, pirate, join

Constitutional Law, State Sovereign Immunity, Abrogation of Immunity, Copyright Law, Copyright Infringement Actions, Civil Infringement Actions, Defenses, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, State Sovereign Immunity, Substantive Due Process, Scope, Fundamental Rights, Procedural Due Process, Scope of Protection, Congressional Duties & Powers, Copyright & Patent Clause, Business & Corporate Compliance, Patent Law, Infringement Actions, Bankruptcy Law, Procedural Matters, Jurisdiction, Civil Procedure, Jurisdiction, In Rem & Personal Jurisdiction, In Rem Actions, Bankruptcy Clause, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Constitutional Copyright Protections, Remedies