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Rhode Island

What is the law?

Binding, on-point law (about)


Advisory sources (about)


Public records law (about)

Rhode Island enacted the Access to Public Records Law in 1979. R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 38-2-1. Prior to the statute, a common law right of access to records was available, but required that requestors have a demonstrated "interest" in the records. In re Caswell's Request, 18 R.I. 835, 29 A. 259, 259 (1893).

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

"No public records shall be withheld based on the purpose for which the records are sought, nor shall a public body require, as a condition of fulfilling a public records request, that a person or entity provide a reason for the request or provide personally identifiable information about him/herself." R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 38-2-3(j). Commercial use was originally restricted by R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 38-2-6, but was deemed unconstitutional in Rhode Island Ass'n of Realtors, Inc. v. Whitehouse, 51 F.Supp.2d 107 (1999), affirmed 199 F.3d 26, and was subsequently repealed. Rhode Island still allows a waiver of copying fees for non-commercial use. R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 38-2-4(e).

Specifics and examples (about)

Status Applies to... Based on?
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property of the University of Rhode Island R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 16-32.1-2(b)(4)
Copyright retained by third-party, copies not provided under public records law Copyrighted material incorporated by reference into an agency rule [1] R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 42-35-3.2(e) ("If an agency proposes to incorporate any material by reference in a state rule, the agency shall maintain a copy of the material and shall allow public inspection of the material and provide copies of any non-copyrighted material to the public at cost upon request beginning no later than the date of publication of the notice of proposed rule-making. If any material to be incorporated by reference has been copyrighted, the agency shall upon request provide information about the publisher and the citation to the material.")
Public domain asserted Information on the City of Warwick, RI website "Information provided within this site is entirely within the public domain, unless otherwise noted, and may be reproduced but not altered in any manner." Stating that the information may not be altered suggests that the City of Warwick may not truly mean "public domain" when they say "public domain." Elsewhere on their website, a more complete copyright statement reads: "The City of Warwick, Rhode Island makes the content of this WWW site available to the public. Anyone may view information found here without obligation to the City of Warwick, Rhode Island, unless otherwise stated on particular articles of information to which a restriction on fair use may apply. However, the City of Warwick, Rhode Island makes no warranty that materials contained herein are free of copyright claims or other restrictions or limitations on fair use or display. The compiled information presented on this WWW site is considered public information and may be distributed or copied. However, use of appropriate byline/photo/image credits is requested." City of Warwick, Copyright
Public domain common Archival records, e.g. Historic Resources Archive Documentation for Hopkins Mills Bridge No. 96 (Tiverton, R.I.), created by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation "Copyright is in the public domain unless otherwise specified."

Additional things to consider (about)

Several places in the Rhode Island code refer to records as "property of the state": R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 8-10-36 ("All books, papers, recording media, and supplies necessary for the use of the court reporters and court recording clerks… and the notebooks used and notes and recordings taken by them shall be the property of the state"); R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 8-5-4 (same); R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 20-2-3 ("Every city and town clerk or agent appointed under this chapter shall record all licenses issued under this chapter in books kept for that purpose, one coupon of which shall be retained in his or her record. The books shall be supplied by the department, shall remain the property of the state."). Additionally, the Rhode Island Attorney General has the statutory authority to replevin public records not held in state custody. R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 42-8.1-12.

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