Controversy Over Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge Continues

Aug 10, 2015

Credit Uprooted Photographer

Florida-based marine research and recovery corporation Intersal has sued the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources over rights to the Queen Anne’s Revenge after withdrawing a similar case from the Office of Administrative Hearings in June. Lee Jenkins has more on the lawsuit and what led up to it.

Since Intersal discovered the Queen Anne’s Revenge in 1996 and negotiated the rights to it in 1998, it’s had frequent disputes with the Department of Cultural Resources over who’s entitled to what – the ‘what’ being any treasure excavated from the wreck and replicas, images, videos, and other intellectual property produced as a result of the discovery.  Intersal Chairman John Masters says the 1998 deal went down like this:

“Intersal made the deal with the state in 1998 in which Intersal traded our rights to three quarters of any treasure found on the QAR. We traded that to the state of North Carolina in return for exclusive media and replica rights.”

The agreement didn’t last. In 2013, DCR refused to renew the agreement and Intersal brought it before North Carolina’s Office of Administrative Hearings. That led to a settlement where Intersal and DCR shared media and replica rights. Now, Intersal claims DCR failed to uphold the settlement by involving other media groups.

“Intersal originally traded its right to profit from the shipwreck in return for the media and replica rights. In 2013, DCR entered into a contract with the Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge, and that group entered into a contract with other media companies.”

DCR has declined to comment on the matter, but released a statement saying that they do not believe they violated the settlement. Intersal says they originally hoped to resolve the matter with the Office of Administrative Hearings, but went on to file their lawsuit when the state contested the OAH’s authority to handle breach of contract issues.

“OAH has heard many of those kinds of cases before. It seems apparent that the AG’s office and DCR were more interested in making new case law than resolving the issues with Intersal.”

So, Intersal is suing the DCR for over eight million dollars in damages. Masters says Intersal determined the amount based on previous dealings with their Fayetteville-based media partner Nautilus Productions.

“In the agreement that we signed, DCR paid our video designee, Nautilus Productions, $3000 for each image violation that they committed, and Nautilus production currently charges $150 per second for licensing in perpetuity Queen Anne’s Revenge footage.”

A picture is worth a few thousand dollars here and Intersal claims DCR posted over 2,000 in breach of contract. Other claims levied against DCR include demonstrating a conflict of interest and holding Intersal’s media partner Nautilus to arbitrarily higher standards compared to other DCR affiliates. DCR has declined to comment on either issue. Masters says the conflict of interest stems from the composition and spending of the not-for-profit Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge.

“The Friends of the Queen Anne’s Revenge entered into a contract with an independent media company and as part of this contract the spouse of the treasurer of the Friends who was also, at the same time, the director of the Underwater Archaeology branch overseeing the Queen Anne’s Revenge project, she received $10,000 to develop educational lesson plans that were already in existence.”

As for higher standards, Intersal says DCR required Nautilus co-founder Rick Allen to take a swim test following an accident, an evidently unprecedented demand. Nautilus is not involved in the current lawsuit, however. As for Intersal’s other project, the search for the treasure-laden wreck of the El Salvador, CEO David Reeder says legislature proposed by DCR could thwart any arrangements similar to the 1998 memorandum of agreement.

“That amendment is going to affect a lot more people than just us.”

The amendment in question says any images, footage, or documents pertaining to derelict shipwrecks are public records when in the custody of state agencies. In other words, the photos are public property and cannot be altered, while Interal’s contract states photos must be watermarked and timecoded to discourage commercial reproduction.

“It’s an amazing coincidence that this amendment was tacked on to the bill in the same timeframe as our lawsuit was filed.”

The bill wouldn’t affect the QAR agreement if it passes. I’m Lee Jenkins.