[Statute of] Queen Anne’s Revenge? Supreme Court Grants Certiorari in Allen v. Cooper
Most media reports concerning the case, however, were less concerned with the legal principle involved, and more interested in the factual situation out of which the dispute arose: the discovery, in 1996, of the 300-year-old wreck of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the flagship of Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard the pirate. Coincidentally, Blackbeard named his ship for the same Queen Anne who gave royal consent to the first British copyright act, the Statute of Anne, in 1710. In the same year, Bristol merchants completed a ship named Concord, which was later sold to French merchants who called it La Concorde. Blackbeard captured the ship in 1717, outfitted it with additional cannon, and renamed it Queen Anne’s Revenge, because he had served as a British privateer during the war against France and Spain that lasted for almost the whole of Queen Anne’s reign.
Allen v. Cooper raises a host of interesting issues regarding the relationship between the states and the federal government vis-à-vis copyright infringement and the ability of a state to declare a copyrighted work to be a “public record.” The U.S. Supreme Court granted certoriari only on a single threshold issue: whether the states have sovereign immunity from suits for copyright infringement under the Eleventh Amendment. Even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of sovereign immunity, as expected, the possibility of a state lawsuit for inverse condemnation remains. Thus, more than 300 years after the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground, her voyage through the American judicial system is far from over.