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Supreme Court rules states can’t be sued for copyright violations

The U.S. Supreme Court declared states cannot be sued for copyright infringement because they have “sovereign immunity,” a blow to photographers who seek to protect their rights. The opinion came down as part of a review of an earlier Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decision in the case of Allen v Cooper.

The case began in 2013, when videographer Frederick Allen sued North Carolina for using his videos of the salvage of Queen Anne’s Revenge, a shipwreck discovered off the North Carolina coast in 1998, without permission, according to PetaPixel. The state claimed “sovereign immunity,” and though they initially lost this argument in the Eastern District of North Carolina, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling.

In essence, the Supreme Court struck down the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) of 1990, an amendment to the Copyright Act of 1976 which attempted to strip states of their sovereign immunity where copyright was concerned. The Court agreed with the Fourth Circuit, stating Congress lacked the authority to take away states’ immunity in the CRCA.

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) filed an amicus brief last year with the Supreme Court, cautioning this very thing:  “The decision, in this case, will ultimately determine whether states can be held liable for damages under the Copyright Act or whether sovereign immunity clears the way for states to infringe with impunity everything from photographs to Hollywood movies.”

The complete Supreme Court is linked here.

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