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What is the law?

Binding, on-point law (about)

A California court in County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court interpreted the California Public Records Act to prohibit copyright in state government documents unless there is specific statutory authority to do so. Cnty. of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 170 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 1335, 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 374, 399 (2009). This follows the reasoning used in Florida, and diverges from that of New York. There is a narrow window in the Public Records Act which allows records to be withheld from public disclosure if "on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record." Cal. Gov't Code § 6255.

Advisory sources (about)

The Office of the California Attorney General provides several guides to the Public Records Act. Their "Public Records Act Training" document states that "Copyright protection [is] presumably imported into [the Public Records Act] via Gov. Code, § 6254 (k)." § 6254(k) exempts from disclosure records "the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited pursuant to federal or state law"), and cites the precedent from New York suggesting that government records are copyrighted. This is an undated document, and does not mention the Santa Clara decision. Other guidelines provided through the Attorney General website do not address the copyright issue. See, e.g. "DOJ public records act guidelines" (2012), and the "Summary of the California Public Records Act 2004" (2004).

Public records law (about)

California has a Constitutional right to access government records. Cal. Const. Art. 1, § 3. The California Public Records Act, enacted in 1968 begins at Cal. Gov't Code § 6250. California has recognized a right of access to public records since at least 1886. See Colnon v. Orr, 71 Cal. 43, 45, 11 P. 814, 815 (1886). For general information about California's public records law see Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Open Government Guide: Access to Public Records and Meetings in California, and the National Association of Counties, Open Records Laws: A State by State Report, 22-24 (2010).

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

Records requests cannot be denied based on the requestor's intended use of the records, including commercial use. Cal. Gov't Code § 6257.5; Cnty. of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 170 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 1335, 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 374, 400 (2009).

Specifics and examples (about)

Status Applies to... Based on?
Public domain by judicial interpretation of the Public Records Act County-created geographic information system basemap Cnty. of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, 170 Cal. App. 4th 1301, 89 Cal. Rptr. 3d 374 (2009)
Public domain encouraged "where appropriate" State-funded research Cal. Gov't Code § 13988(b)
Copyrightable by statute "Computer software developed by a state or local agency" Cal. Gov't Code § 6254.9
Public domain by statute "consumer information publications referred to in this article" Cal. Civ. Code § 2079.11
Copyrightable by statute "copyrightable works developed by [a community college] district" Cal. Ed. Code § 72207
Copyrightable by statute Intellectual property developed by third parties under contract with the California Health and Human Services Agency Cal. Health & Saf. Code § 130251.15
Copyrightable by statute "any work, including, but not limited to, video recordings, audio recordings, books, pamphlets, and computer software" created by the Department of Toxic Substances Control Cal. Health & Saf.Code, § 25201.11
Copyrightable by statute "all copyrightable works developed by [any county board of education]" Cal. Ed. Code, § 1044

Additional things to consider (about)

Any items in the custody of the State Archives which are exempt from public records disclosure become accessible after 75 years. Cal. Gov't Code § 12237.

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