US states can violate copyright with impunity

If a US state infringes copyright, the author cannot do anything about it. The states are immune to lawsuits by injured rights holders. The US Supreme Court unanimously decided on Monday. The constitutional court relies in particular on a similar decision on patent infringements from the previous century.

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In principle, US federal agencies as well as authorities from US states and aboriginal tribes enjoy immunity ("sovereign immunity") before US courts, which is to a large extent extended to foreign states and their state-owned companies. One cannot sue states there unless they give their consent or there is a special legal basis. In 1990, the US Parliament passed two laws that explicitly provide for lawsuits against US states for copyright and patent infringement: Patent Remidy Clarification Act (PRCA) and Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA).

However, the Supreme Court abolished the PRCA in 1999 as unconstitutional; now he does that with the CRCA. In both cases, the court ruled that federal lawmakers should only intervene proportionately in the sovereignty of the United States in favor of property protection.

The protocols and files of the US Parliament around PRCA and CRCA provide only a few examples of patent and copyright infringements by US states. Restricting the sovereignty of the US states, which generally abide by copyright and patent rights, is not proportionate in the view of the Constitutional Court from such individual cases.

If the Parliament succeeds in documenting frequent relevant legal violations by US states, it could decide again PRCA or CRCA. With regard to patents, however, this has not happened for 21 years. After all, it has now been made clear that state institutions, including educational institutions, books, films, software and other works may copy and distribute with impunity. If they take advantage of this, copyright advocates could document this and then try to get a new CRCA adopted.

The occasion for the case was a real pirate ship: in 1717, the notorious pirate Blackbeard had the ship Queen Anne's Revenge brought into his grip, but had already run aground off North Carolina the following year. The wreck was not found until 1996. The filmmaker Frederick Allen subsequently documented salvaging the wreck for more than a decade.

In 2013, the US state of North Carolina released photos from Allen's camera without obtaining permission from the author. Allen and the state agreed on $ 15,000 in compensation and wrote down the recognized rights. But shortly afterwards, the state released Allen's film recordings, which again saw its rights violated and sued.

The Federal District Court accepted the lawsuit, against which North Carolina defended itself: It could not be sued at all. The question went up to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the state. Everyone has to accept the unlicensed distribution of his films by the US state without compensation.

The current procedure is called Allen et al. v. Cooper, Governor of North Caroline and carries Az. 18-877. The procedure decided in 1999 was called Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Education Expense Board v. College Savings Bank.


. (tagsToTranslate) Intellectual Property (t) Intellectual Property Law (t) Patents (t) Law (t) USA (t) Copyright