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North Carolina

What is the law?

Binding, on-point law (about)


Advisory sources (about)


McKenna v. Lee, 318 F. Supp. 2d 296 (E.D.N.C. 2002) aff'd, 53 F. App'x 268 (4th Cir. 2002), presented a case of a state prison inmate who asserted a copyright interest in a design he created while incarcerated in the state penitentiary which was later used as a state license plate design. The court determined that the design was a work-made-for-hire, and that the copyright could not be held by the inmate. The case may imply that the copyright in the design was therefore held by the state, but did not directly address that issue. It is possible, after McKenna, that the inmate did not own the copyright and, instead, the design was a public record in the public domain.

Public records law (about)

The first North Carolina Public Records law was enacted in 1935. The current Public Records Law can be found at N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 132-1 et seq. and states that public records are "the property of the people."

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

By law, "[n]o person requesting to inspect and examine public records, or to obtain copies thereof, shall be required to disclose the purpose or motive for the request." N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 132-6(b). A county or city in North Carolina may require that the recipient of geographic data not use the data commercially, but the statute indicates that use of the data in news media or by real estate trade associations does not qualify as a commercial purpose under the exception. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 132-10.

Specifics and examples (about)

Status Applies to... Based on?
Copyrightable by statute State may hold copyright in "official flag, seal, and other emblems appropriate in connection with the management and operation of the Tryon Palace Restoration" N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 121-21
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property of the North Carolina Agency for Public Telecommunications N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 143B-426.11(1)
Public domain by attorney general opinion Text of the North Carolina General Statutes [1] 1994 WL 1026122 (N.C.A.G. Mar. 16, 1994)

Additional things to consider (about)

The website of the State Archives of North Carolina, the official repository for North Carolina state documents under N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 121-2, states that "[a]ll public state and local records in the custody of the State Archives of North Carolina are in the public domain and may be cited and published without permission." State Archives of North Carolina, Permissions and Citations.

The North Carolina public records law states that "The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people." N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 132-1. Elsewhere in the state code, however, specific records are referred to as "property of the state": N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 70-13 ("The archaeological resources which are collected, excavated or removed from State lands and associated records and data will remain the property of the State"); N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 7A-95 ("the original tapes, notes, discs or other records are the property of the State"). [2]

North Carolina law provides penalties for unlawful possession of public records. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 132-5.

Where else to go




Attorney General Opinions