US Senators Ask Copyright Office to Look into State Infringement

After a ruling that held that government is immune to copyright infringement lawsuits, senators are wanting officials to look into this further.

It was a US Supreme court ruling that could cause just about anyone to do a double take. Back in March, the US Supreme court made a ruling over a case that pitted a videographer and the state of North Carolina. At issue are photographs of pirate ship Queen Ann’s Revenge. The ship, as some historians would know, was the ship piloted by non other than famous pirate Blackbeard. After posting pictures of the recovery effort, some of those pictures wound up on the North Carolina website. In response, Frederick Allen sued the state for copyright infringement because the state did not have permission to post those photos.

That case made it all the way to the US Supreme court which ruled that government cannot be sued for copyright infringement. In a country that is effectively owned by the copyright industry, this is not your typical ruling.

Of course, where things can go from here is legal clarification from lawmakers. After all, the litigation aspect of this case is now officially over now that the ruling is in the books. It seems that lawmakers are taking notice and are now asking the US Copyright and Patent Office to look at what sorts of infringement takes place at the government level. This appears to be a first step to getting new legislation tabled. From The Hollywood Reporter:

“Congress likely did not appreciate the importance of linking the scope of its abrogation to the redress or prevention of unconstitutional injuries — and of creating a legislative record to back up that connection,” she wrote. “But going forward, Congress will know those rules. And under them, if it detects violations of due process, then it may enact a proportionate response. That kind of tailored statute can effectively stop States from behaving as copyright pirates. Even while respecting constitutional limits, it can bring digital Blackbeards to justice.”

Alas, the senators are taking the tip.

The letter states that Allen v. Cooper is a “blueprint for how to validly abrogate State sovereign immunity,” and the senators say they need to identify a pattern of unconstitutional infringement before enactment of any new law.

“It is on this point that we request … expertise and advice,” states the letter, adding that as part of the analysis the offices “should consider the extent to which such infringements appear to be based on intentional or reckless conduct.”

In actuality, the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act didn’t come without study. The Register of Copyrights did prepare a report that led to those old laws that the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional.

Now the scene is set for another attempt. The senators say they want findings no later than April 30, 2021.

So, clearly this isn’t the end of this usual story. It’ll take a year for the study to be complete at least. As the article points out, the copyright industry’s lobbyists will likely get the Office’s ear (and probably more or less dictate the direction the office should take for that matter) in this case. So, the chances of the government retaining legal immunity from copyright infringement lawsuits are very slim. In short, enjoy the legal immunity while it lasts because that rare privilege will not be around forever.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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