BEAUFORT — Lawsuits alleging copyright infringement have led to the dissolution of Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the nonprofit fundraising group for the QAR shipwreck project, but the state says work will continue.
The Article of Dissolution of the nonprofit corporation, based here, was filed March 14 with the N.C. Secretary of State in Raleigh.
Wendi Oliver, former president of the Board of Directors for Friends of the QAR, said Wednesday in a press release, “Unfortunately, the state is involved with two lawsuits in which our organization was also named. This precludes us from raising any more funds for the QAR project.”
The dissolution of the Friends “does not affect the QAR project and excavation process,” Cary Cox, Assistant Secretary for Marketing and Communications with the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, which is responsible for the QAR project, said in an email statement Wednesday.
Ms. Cox said the state plans to focus on artifact conservation this year, with no dives planned.
Last year the N.C. General Assembly allocated $1.5 million to be used over the next two years for the QAR project, according to Ms. Cox.
The first of two lawsuits that names Friends of the QAR was filed March 21, by Intersal Inc., a Florida-based maritime research and salvage company that discovered the shipwreck in Beaufort Inlet in 1996. The company filed the claim with the N.C. Business Court, a division of the state’s superior court system, and is seeking more than $129 million in damages.
Others named in the suit include the State of North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory and other government officials, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources and some of its employees.
Intersal Inc. alleges numerous incidents of copyright infringement, breach of contract, unfair trade practices and other complaints.
Intersal Inc. also alleges the N.C. General Assembly passage of “Blackbeard’s Law” in August 2015 and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, is unconstitutional.
Blackbeard’s Law states that videos, photos and other documentary work in the state’s possession are now “public documents” and there are no restrictions on their use. The law also states that any agreement to the contrary would be invalid.
In reaction to the law, Intersal states, “This is a brazen attempt to obliterate Intersal’s contractual, media and constitutional rights…”
The other suit that lists Friends of the QAR and other state plaintiffs was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on Dec. 1, 2015, by Nautilus Productions LLC and its owner Rick Allen, a videographer based in Fayetteville who has documented the discovery and excavation of the Queen Anne’s Revenge for nearly two decades. Mr. Allen has not yet assigned an amount he is seeking in damages, and amended his original suit March 7 to add 80 additional alleged copyright infringement violations.
Nautilus Productions filed the federal lawsuit against Gov. McCrory and other government officials, North Carolina and a number of organizations, including Friends of the QAR, and employees of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Nautilus Productions alleges that “Blackbeard’s Law” is unconstitutional, and that the defendants have infringed copyrights owned and licensed by Mr. Allen and Nautilus.
Mr. Allen said just weeks after signing Blackbeard’s Law, the NCDNCR “posted videos and images that illegally incorporated Nautilus’ digital media and violated Nautilus Productions’ registered copyrights and intellectual property rights on its State Government Social Media Archive.”
Mr. Allen said this isn’t the first time the state has been in trouble over the project. Earlier allegations of copyright infringement resulted in a 2013 Settlement Agreement, and payment of $15,000 to Nautilus and Mr. Allen as compensation for copyright infringement.
Intersal also filed a second complaint, which doesn’t name Friends of the QAR, on Feb. 23, with the Office of Administrative Hearings in Raleigh in response to the state’s Dec. 1, 2015, denial of the reissuance of a permit to continue the company’s search for the El Salvador, a Spanish merchant ship that reportedly sank in 1750 in Beaufort Inlet. Intersal is asking the state to issue the permit.
Contact Cheryl Burke at 252-726-7081, ext. 255; email Cheryl@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter @cherylccnt.