States Immune from Copyright Suits, Supreme Court Rules

Written March 24, 2020

The US Supreme Court on March 23, 2020, ruled that state institutions can’t be sued for copyright infringement, in a case stemming from the use of videos and images featuring the wreck of Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge. Allen v. Cooper, US, No. 18-877.

In a unanimous decision, the justices said states are protected by sovereign immunity and threw out a 1990 federal law that attempted to authorize such lawsuits, ruling that the measure went beyond Congress’ constitutional authority. Justice Elena Kagan said the court was bound by a 1990 ruling that precluded lawsuits seeking patent damages from states. That ruling “all but prewrote our decision today,” Kagan wrote for the court.

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