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What is the law?

Binding, on-point law (about)


Advisory sources (about)

A Minnesota attorney general opinion interprets the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), the state public records law, as requiring public disclosure of records, but not prohibiting a state-held copyright from limiting the subsequent use of disclosed records. [1] The opinion acknowledges, however, that "[i]t is, of course, ultimately the legislature's role and responsibility to make or change policy in this area," and after citing policy reasons that may argue against copyright protection, concludes with the statement that "we certainly encourage the legislature to consider these issues carefully." Minn. Op. Att'y Gen. 852 (1995).

Minnesota law exempts from public access records transferred to the state archives which "[are] proprietary information, including computer programs and software and other types of information manufactured or marketed by persons under exclusive legal right, owned by the agency or entrusted to it." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 138.17 subd. 1c(a)(3).

Public records law (about)

Minnesota has recognized a public right of access to public records since at least the 1940s. See Op. Atty Gen. (Minn.) file 851-I, June 18, 1943, cited in Harold L. Cross, The People's Right to Know: Legal Access to Public Records and Proceedings, (1953), at 117. The current law is the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA), which can be found at Minn. Stat. Ann. § 13.01. The laws says that "[a]ll government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 13.03.

The MGDPA mentions copyright only in the context of government-created software. Of software, the statute says, "[a] government entity may enforce a copyright or acquire a patent for a computer software program or components of a program created by that government entity without statutory authority." Minn. Stat. § 13.03 subd. 5. [2]

Does the public records law restrict the use of disclosed records?

The purpose is generally irrelevant to a records request. Op.Atty.Gen. 373b-18(b), March 8, 1967. However, if the request "involves any person's receipt of copies of public government data that has commercial value… the responsible authority may charge a reasonable fee for the information in addition to the costs of making and certifying the copies." Minn. Stat. Ann. § 13.03 subd. 3(d).

In addition, the Information Policy Analysis Division of the Minnesota Department of Administration is empowered to issue advisory opinions related to the MGDPA. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 13.072 subd.1. This division provides general guidance on their website which covers the interaction of the MGDPA with federal copyright law. Additionally, several of these opinions address the copyrightability of Minnesota records: advisory opinions 94-057 ("unless clearly specified by the legislature, the public's right of access to and use of public government data cannot be curtailed by a government entity's claim of intellectual property rights in those data." This, however, is superseded by AG opinion 852, discussed above); advisory opinion 96-032 (addressing a copyright held by a third party); advisory opinion 00-006 (government entity may control the use of but not access to copyrighted material); advisory opinion 00-042 (inspection, but not copying, allowed for a copyrighted video); advisory opinion 02-012 (inspection, but not copying, allowed for third-party copyrighted building plans); advisory opinion 08-009 (inspection, but not copying, allowed for third-party copyrighted book).

Specifics and examples (about)

Status Applies to... Based on?
Copyrightable by statute "computer software program[s] or components of a program created by [a] government entity" Minn. Stat. § 13.03 Subd. 5
Copyrightable by statute Published volumes of reports of the Minnesota Supreme Court [3] Minn. Stat. § 480.11 subd. 3
Copyrightable by statute Published compilations and supplements to state code [4] Minn. Stat. Ann. § 14.47 subd. 1(5)
Public domain by statute Healthcare data collected under the Data Collection and Research Initiatives Minn. Stat. Ann. § 62J.301 subd. 2(a)(4)
Copyright asserted by county Databases and electronic data compilations licensed by the County of Houston, MN

Additional things to consider (about)

The Minnesota attorney general may replevin public records which have been improperly removed from government custody. Minn. Stat. Ann. § 138.226.

The Minnesota Historical Society, which is the official administrator of the state archives under Minn. Stat. Ann. § 138.161, generally asserts a copyright interest in its collections. See also

Where else to go



Attorney General Opinions

Information Policy Analysis Division Opinions