Fayetteville filmmaker Rick Allen has filed an amended complaint against the state of North Carolina, alleging misuse of his copyrighted footage of the notorious pirate Blackbeard’s shipwreck, the Queen Anne’s Revenge.
In the complaint, filed Feb. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Allen argues that the state pirated his footage of Blackbeard’s flagship and then passed “Blackbeard’s Law” in 2015 to justify the misuse.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously rejected Allen’s initial lawsuit, saying governments are immune from copyright laws under constitutionally guaranteed sovereign immunity, which says that governments cannot be sued without their consent. Allen said it was the first time a copyright infringement case has made it to the Supreme Court.
He said his amended lawsuit differs from the original in that he now alleges the state “has declared eminent domain and violated my Fifth and 14th amendment rights to due process and compensation for taking my property.”
Allen also argues that the legislature illegally targeted him specifically with the passage of “Blacksbeard’s Law.”
Under that law, “all photographs, video recordings or other documentary materials of a derelict vessel or shipwreck or its contents, relics, artifacts or historic materials in the custody of any agency of North Carolina government or its subdivisions shall be a public record.’’
“Defendants have claimed they are free to use Allen’s life work however they want, as much as they want, without providing any compensation,” according to the amended complaint. “In keeping with that policy, defendants have copied, distributed, sold, and publicly performed Allen’s work thousands of times since passage of Blackbeard’s Law, all without permission or compensation.”
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Allen estimates that the law has cost him $150,000 in revenue he could have made from his work and more than $400,000 in legal fees to fight against actions by the state.
He is seeking a declaratory judgment stating that Blackbeard’s Law has always been unconstitutional, and he wants compensation for the state’s taking of his property and livelihood.
The complaint lists numerous defendants, including Gov. Roy Cooper, state Attorney General Josh Stein and the N.C. Department of Cultural and Natural Resources.
Allen operates Nautilus Productions, which was the official videographer for documenting the recovery of artifacts from the Blackbeard shipwreck for nearly two decades. The company’s footage of the shipwreck has aired worldwide on the BBC, History Channel, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and other television channels.
The shipwreck was discovered off the North Carolina coast in 1996 by Intersal Inc. which has filed a separate breach-of-contract lawsuit in North Carolina state court. That lawsuit is pending.
Greg Barnes is an investigative reporter for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.