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What is the law

Binding, on-point law (about)


Advisory sources (about)


Public records law (about)

A limited common law right of access to public records has existed in Washington since at least 1931. See Stewart v. Maybury, 164 Wash. 500, 3 P.2d 138 (1931). The current Washington Public Records Act, enacted in 1972, may be found at Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 42.56.0001 et seq. The Washington Public Records Act begins with an exceptionally strong commitment to openness in government: "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created." [1] Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 42.56.030.

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

Under the Public Records Law, requestors "shall not be required to provide information as to the purpose for the request," Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 42.56.080, and a requestor does not need a particular purpose to receive public records. Yacobellis v. City of Bellingham, 55 Wash. App. 706, 710, 780 P.2d 272, 275 (1989), review denied, 114 Wash. 2d 1002 (1990). Requests may be denied based on the purpose of the request, however, if the request is made by an inmate with the intention of harassing a public agency or furthering a crime, Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 42.56.565, or to prevent the commercial use of lists of individuals, Wash. Rev. Code Ann. 42.56.070(9); 1983 Op. Atty. Gen. No. 9.

The Washington Public Records Act exempts "valuable" data "when disclosure would produce private gain and public loss." Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 42.56.270. This balancing is applied on a case-by-case basis if a records request becomes contentious, and is determined by a judge. See, e.g., Progressive Animal Welfare Soc'y v. Univ. of Wash., 125 Wash. 2d 243, 255, 884 P.2d 592, 599 (1994); Robbins, Geller, Rudman & Dowd, LLP v. State, 179 Wash. App. 711, 328 P.3d 905, 914-16 (2014).

Specifics and examples (about)

Status Applies to... Based on?
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property of the Washington Economic Development Finance Authority Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 43.163.210
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property of a local economic development finance authority created under Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 39.110 Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 39.110.040
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property of the Washington Apple Commission Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 15.24.070
Public domain by statute "All training curricula and material, except competency testing material, developed by or for the department and used in part or in whole for the purpose of improving provider and caregiver knowledge and skill" Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 74.39A.200
Copyright asserted by department "[A]ll text, data, images, audio, and video ... found on [the Department of] Ecology's Web sites" Washington Department of Ecology, Copyright
Public domain asserted by state Information available on the Washington Secretary of State website Secretary of State, Web Sites Privacy Policy

Additional things to consider (about)

The Washington code occasionally refers to records as "property of the state": Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 40.14.020 ("All public records shall be and remain the property of the state of Washington"); Wash. Rev. Code Ann. § 43.06.090 ("papers, records, and property of the state").

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Attorney General Opinions