Treasure Hunter Sues State for Misuse of Photos of Blackbeard’s Ship

Myra Bari
Staff Writer

PC: Flickr

Following a ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday, Nov. 4, a treasure hunter who had accused the state of North Carolina of misusing images he had taken from Blackbeard’s flagship has adjusted the previous damages he had sought, the total being ten times that of the original claim. 

The treasure hunter, John Masters of a Florida-based company named Intersal Inc. has stated he plans to seek about $140 million in damages from the state after the ruling from the North Carolina Supreme Court, announcing that the case must return to the Business Court. Masters had an expert witness that has accounted for Intersal’s losses from the state’s previous use of more than 2000 images and more than 200 minutes of the film as a sum of $129 million. Masters is also seeking an additional $11 million for losses as a result of a permit denied by the state, which would have given Intersal the opportunity to search for a Spanish ship. 

In a telephone interview conducted by an Associated Press reporter, Masters acknowledged the long-awaited ruling that had landed in his favor. 

“What’s going to happen is—finally, finally, finally—we can get in front of a judge who can rule on the case on its merits. That’s all we ever wanted,” said Masters.

Masters’ father, Phillip Masters, discovered the wreckage of the Queen Anne’s Revenge almost a quarter-century ago. The ship had been discarded in Beaufort, North Carolina, in what had been the colony around June of the year, 1718. Volunteers within the Royal Navy had killed Blackbeard in the Ocracoke Inlet of that year as well.

When Intersal had originally found the shipwreck in 1996, the company found little loot, but since then tens of thousands of artifacts have been discovered. Intersal and the state of North Carolina had agreed to two contracts, one in 1998 and the other in 2013. Both contracts gave Intersal the rights to photos and videos of the wreck as well as the restoration, study and preservation of the historical artifacts within the wreck. 

Intersal claimed that the state has disregarded the contracts made with the company, through the display of artifacts from the ship on websites other than the company’s without any visible credit to Intersal. 

The state of North Carolina has created an entire tourist industry about Blackbeard and his ship since the discovery of the shipwreck in 1996 by Masters’ father. This includes exhibits at the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, which hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year according to a website for Queen Anne’s Revenge. Artifacts, such as a 2000-pound cannon, go on tour to other state museums. The state also posts various media on social media and websites. 

The ruling written on Friday, Nov. 4 affirms that the state didn’t argue that the contract made in 2013 was invalid, then referring to previous case law asserting that the state can’t claim sovereign immunity once entered into a valid contract.

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