US Supreme Court Protects States from Copyright Infringement Lawsuits in Photography Case


If there’s an issue that confuses the heck out of people, it is the concept of copyright and the protections it offers creators.

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Photo by Mohamed Almari from Pexels.

Of course, it’s not hard to see why people are confused – and it’s only becoming worse.

After all, in the past, when we didn’t have Instagram, Twitter, and all of the Internet-based media we have now, copyright infringement was a bit harder to do and also a lot more well-hidden. Additionally, catching intellectual property thieves used to be difficult and involved but it is becoming much easier to find and challenge now.

At least, that was until the Supreme Court helped muddy the waters further by basically protecting the states within the United States from copyright infringement lawsuits.

The case, Allen v Cooper, was basically decided in the lower courts and through the writ of certiorari granted by the Supreme Court that decision now stands. Certiorari is basically a review process to make sure the lower court has not made any errors in legal reasoning in its ruling and is not an independent opinion on the case from the Supreme Court itself. Even so, upholding the lower court basically makes its findings the new law of the land and adds a complex knot into the body of case law for copyright.

In the lower court, the ruling basically nullified the Copyright Remedy Clarification Act (CRCA) of 1990 when it comes to individual states in the United States. Written as a way to prevent states from claiming sovereign immunity when charged with copyright infringement, the question of the degree to which US states are “sovereign” perhaps became one of the many hinges upon which the argument turned.

Ruling that it did not apply to them, in essence, gives states the ability to use whatever photograph they want to without permission.

PetaPixel quotes the NPPA which states that this ruling will, “…ultimately determine whether states can be held liable for damages under the Copyright Act,” wrote the NPPA at the time, “or whether sovereign immunity clears the way for states to infringe with impunity everything from photographs to Hollywood movies.”

What makes this even more complex is that even though states seem to be protected from copyright infringement suits under this ruling, it doesn’t mean that third-parties that use or share these materials cannot be sued. Like we said, complex and a mess that doesn’t really clarify much of anything for the average Joe.

You can read the ruling here.

What do you think of the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case? Let us know your thoughts on it in the comments section below if you like.

Also, check out our other photography news articles on Light Stalking by clicking this link right here.


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Kehl is our staff photography news writer and has over a decade of experience in online media and publishing and you can get to know him better here

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