RMS Titanic, Inc. -- protectors or monopolists?

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I read the article today and I can decide if I'm pissed at their arogance or pleased that there won't be hordes running into the Titanic. What do you think? Are the RMS Titanic Inc people preserving history or are they creating a Titanic monopoly. I'm surprised they haven't sued the people who plan to build the reproductions.


(article following)

May 5, 1998

Battle Brewing Over Titanic Tours

Filed at 6:11 a.m. EDT

By The Associated Press

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) -- You've seen the movie ``Titanic,'' read the books, maybe even watched the musical. Now, stay away from the real thing.

That's what a company that owns salvage rights to the legendary shipwreck said Monday after asking a federal judge to bar sightseeers from getting too close to the site 2 1/2 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic.

RMS Titanic Inc. of New York City is seeking a preliminary injunction to keep Deep Ocean Expeditions Ltd. at least 10 nautical miles from the wreck ``for any purpose.''

Deep Ocean Expeditions has lined up 45 customers willing to pay $32,500 each to visit the shipwreck in a three-man submersible vessel. According to RMS Titanic, the trips would interfere with a salvage expedition planned for August and September.

RMS Titanic is especially concerned because Deep Ocean Expeditions' customers would videotape and photograph the wreckage.

``That diminishes the value of the photography rights that we have,'' said Mark Davis, a lawyer for RMS Titanic. ``It could endanger our ability to continue to salvage the wreck in a historically and archaeologically responsible manner.''

In 1995, ``Titanic'' director James Cameron visited the wreckage site using Russian submersibles to film the ship for his movie. The next year, a federal judge in Norfolk ruled that RMS Titanic could control all photography of the Titanic.

The company pays for its salvage trips by licensing photos of the wreck and staging public displays of recovered artifacts.

Entrepreneur Mike McDowell, who established Deep Ocean Expeditions on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, told The New York Times that he will fight the legal challenge. McDowell is also founder of Quark Expeditions in Darien, Conn., which organizes adventure tours and is helping market the planned Titanic dives.

The Titanic sank about 400 miles south of Newfoundland on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. More than 1,500 people died.

The wreck was discovered in 1985.


-- crystal smithwick (crystal@9v.com), May 05, 1998


To be honest I sense the stench of hipocrisy here. Either Ballard of Cameron (I forget now which) discovered when they went down there, that the salvage hunters had done damage themselves. The crows nest had been destroyed amongst other things. It seems that RMS Titanic wants the only rights to preserve or whatever they please. I dodn't like the idea of people touring the wreck as a joyride or whatever, but I think that either all have the rights to go or nobody should. It seems this mob just want to protect their own hip pockets. The have the rights to all the salvage, now only they can photograph! James Cameron was lucky he went down when he did!

-- Lianne (liannegraham@one.net.au), May 05, 1998.

I'm where you are, Crystal - on the fence. My opinion even changed a few times while typing my response. Here's my conclusion though. The only salvaging going on that I know of is at the debris field. Why is only one company allowed to photo this? If there is a concern for expeditions being reckless (no pun intended) and crashing into the stuff, I understand. From the article, though, that doesn't seem to be the concern, just that someone without "photography rights" will beat RMS Titanic to the punch. How is a Norfolk judge able to make such a ruling? I'm glad there'll be a challenge. But we can't have expeditions going down there left and right. If there is a concern of these submarines crashing into the field and into the ship itself (which happened at least once so far, one of the times when Cameron was down there), I see a concern. Then some standards/rules need to be developed (ie, only one down there at a time, with video running the whole time to prove there was no recklessness). But only one craft allowed to go down there for commercial purposes? No way, Jose.

-- BobG (rgregorio@ibm.net), May 05, 1998.

I thought I was the first to respond, but just saw that Lianne got there first! Glad we came to similar conclusions.

-- BobG (rgregorio@ibm.net), May 05, 1998.

Two things strike me:

1. Who owns the copyright on Titanic? It seems that photographic rights would be a sub-set of any copyright. Salvage rights would seem (IMHO) to include only *physical* objects salvaged.

2. Would an injunction be enforceable? Who would enforce it?

Any maritime lawyers out there?

-- Thomas M. Terashima (titanicShack@yahoo.com), May 05, 1998.

Hello, Crystal, Bob and Lianne:

This topic is the mother of all grey areas. We've had a ***considerable*** amount of discussion about this on the Titanic discussion list I belong to. Briefly, the US Federal Court ruling which made RMS Titanic Inc. "Salvor in Possession" is ***only*** binding on other would-be US-based salvors. Because the wreck is in international waters, there is ***no*** jurisdiction. The same would hold true for photographing the wreck. No US-based corporation or individual could photograph the wreck without RMSTI's blessing (presumably this would even include Bob Ballard himself).

If a group ***outside*** the US decided to mount an expedition to photograph the wreck, recover artifacts from the debris field, or even tear into the wreck itself, RMSTI would have no legal recourse to stop them. The most RMSTI could do would be to ask for a court injunction, based on their Federal court award as Salvor in Possession, to prevent the sale or exhibition of recovered artifacts ***in*** the US.

The limiting factor here, of course, is that mounting such an expedition would be almost prohibitively expensive, due to the depth of the wreck, the equipment required to reach her, the ships, supplies and equipment required to support an expedition, and the relatively short window of time when the weather in that region is favorable for diving on the wreck.


-- Kip Henry (kip-henry@ouhsc.edu), May 05, 1998.

The easiest solution to this nightmare would have been if Dr.Ballard would have asked for the "Titanic" rights on the wreckage. Since the first expedition to the site occurred, he started realizing the mistake he made by neglect. But as Kip already indicated, the international waters allow international (non-US) based expeditions. In addition, even Canada could extend its territorial waters and claim the wreck. Who knows? In any event, we should still bear in mind that the wreck is deteriorating. About 40% of the steel structure was already eaten up by the microorganisms. The only salvage opeartions I would agree to would be to shed some light into the history concerning the less well documented steerage passengers that died anonimously. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, rust to rust. All left will be the memories...

-- Dan Draghici (ddraghic@sprint.ca), May 06, 1998.

As Kip mentiones, this subject has caused massive war on another Titanic discussion group. There seems to be no end in sight to the controversy, either on the list or among Titanic enthusiasts in general.

As I posted some weeks earlier, I've seen the RMS Titanic exhibit that is currently on display at the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. I wasn't sure quite what to expect before I went; afterwards, I wondered what all the fuss was about. Most of what RMS inc. has recovered is pretty mundane: dishes, pots, pans, silverware, a porthole, a whistle. Almost all of it comes from the "debris field" that lies between the two main portions of the hull. It only costs about six or seven dollars to see the exhibit, so they aren't ripping you off, but I wouldn't go out of my way to see it again; seeing the Queen Mary was much more fun.

Some people have claimed that RMS inc. makes money by selling some of the artifacts they recover to private collectors. If this is true, then it is perhaps unfortunate, but still something of a yawner to me: if people really want to blow their hard-earned dough on some plate from the Titanic, then that is their business (loss?).

As to whether RMS inc has caused damage to the wreck, remember that the ship is deteriorating fairly quickly anyway. As fragile as it is becoming, it wouldn't surprise me that anyone who does much work around it does damage to it. Ballard claims that RMS has harmed the ship, RMS claims that Cameron harmed the ship, Cameron denies it all, and claims that the damage is RMS's fault. It all gets pretty hard to prove, given where the ship is and so forth.

Finally, there is the issue of photographic rights. My (totally non-lawyer) answer is: let RMS try to enforce their rights if they can...I dare them. No one is going to start a war over the Titanic, so actual enforcement is going to be pretty limited, I think. People will do just what Cameron did--get a non-US expedition to take them down with their cameras.

The RMS inc. people are pretty much a non-issue to me. We have Ballard's book and articles. We have the movie. These tell us much more about one of history's most important ship disasters than anything RMS can do. I don't care if they spend tremendous time and money trying to salvage artifacts from the wreck, or tremendous time and money trying to enforce their claim.

Just my humble $.02 worth.

-- Thomas Shoebotham (cathytom@ix.netcom.com), May 06, 1998.

This was a Washington Post editorial yesterday:

"Who Owns the Titanic?" Who should be allowed to take pictures of the seabed wreck of the Titanic? The common-sense answer that leaps to mind is "anyone"--anyone, that is, who's intrepid enough to make the 2 1/2-mile vertical voyage to the site via submersible. Surely, if ever an object has proved its deep-seated claim to be a part of cultural consciousness and myth, it's the hapless luxury line. The record-breaking reaction to the James Cameron movie is a symptom of that enduring fascination. So was the general shudder of awe when oceanographic explorer Robert Ballard first located the remains in 1985; so was the popularity long before that of Titanic documentaries and a certain bouncy summer-camp song. But issues of ownership get complicated at 13,000 feet below the ocean surface, and an enterprising tour operator that seeks to ferry tourists by submersible to view the wreack (at a hefty price tag, naturally) has run into trouble with a salvage company called RMS Titanic, which owns the rights. The rights? RMS Titanic, it turns out, was granted not only the rights to salvage artifacts from the wreck and show them in musuems but also, somewhat remarkably, the exclusive rights to take and sell photographic images of it. A Norfolk judge followed traditional salvage law in ruling two years ago that the party that first salvages an object from a wreck--not the party that discovered the wreck--gets the salvage rights to whatever the wreck contains. The law, as the company's lawyer, Mark Davis, points out, goes back to antiquity and is intended to encourage the return of sunken booty "to the stream of commerce." High-technology salvage of old shipwrecks lately has become big business because of such laws--mainly, of course, when the cargo is gold. But this long-established notion of the value of wrecks runs counter to the newer concept of historic preservation, of scientific rather than commercial motives for bringing sunken ships to light, or the possibility that a site would have emotional rather than financial resonance. Mr. Davis says the judege made the unusual extension of photographic rights to his client because of its agreement NOT to sell the artifacts but only to display them--and sell their images. (The makers of the "Titanic" movie shot their sequences before the deal was made; others, such as the Discovery Channel, have paid for the privilege of showing such footage.) It's that extension that is now under challenge. Separately, talk is afoot to create some kind of international treaty on "underwater cultural heritage," and the effort is worthwhile. Salvage laws have their function, but not when there's so much other incentive to make the daring journey down--and take pictures.

-- Bob Gregorio (rgregorio@ibm.net), May 10, 1998.

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