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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of North Carolina, Applies Sovereign Immunity

MSK Client Alert 
March 25, 2020

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a provision of the Copyright Act that allows for lawsuits against state governments for copyright infringement is unconstitutional.  The justices were considering Allen, et al. v. Cooper, et al., Case No. 18-877 (Mar. 23, 2020), a case where North Carolina was being sued by a filmmaker for using his videos and photos of the wreck of Queen Anne’s Revenge — the flagship of the pirate Blackbeard.  The justices unanimously ruled that North Carolina was shielded from the lawsuit by state sovereign immunity.

Although the Eleventh Amendment gives states broad sovereign immunity against such lawsuits, the plaintiff relied on the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) — a statue enacted by Congress in 1990 expressly to permit infringement claims against the States.  However, Monday’s ruling invalidates the statute, with the justices determining that Congress lacked the constitutional authority required to abrogate state sovereign immunity in this way.

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