A Supreme Court piracy case involving Blackbeard proves truth is stranger than fiction

Supporters of Frederick Allen wave pirate flag at SCOTUS.

The pirate Blackbeard is a real historical figure who wrecked his stolen flagship, the Queen Annes Revenge, off the coast of North Carolina in 1718. The pirate Captain Hook is a fictional character, the antagonist of the 1904 play Peter Pan. Today, after arguments in a US Supreme Court case about video piracy, the two pirates tales merged into one fantastical reality for Frederick Allen, the petitioner.

Allen is suing the state of North Carolina for infringing on his copyrighted imagery of Blackbeards shipwreck in newsletters and other materials. While the ship was discovered in 1996, Allen began filming its remains for a private company in 1998. The state has claimed sovereign immunitythe right of a ruler to not be subject to a lawsuit. Now, the justices must decide whether a federal law taking away this general immunity from states in the copyright context is unconstitutional, as North Carolina says, or if Allens right that Congress passed the statute to ensure states wouldnt trample on creators.

No one thinks theyll argue in the Supreme Court, Allen told reporters following the hearing, sounding exhilarated. The irony of a video piracy case about the pirate Blackbeards ship making it all this way!

He laughed, adding, Also, I have an iron hand. How would you top that?

Frederick Allen, petitioner.

The petitioner pointed to his left sleeve, where indeed two iron hooks designed for clutching emerged from a black suit,....

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