Q: The County Recorders Office prohibits the use of hand scanners or digital cameras in its Public Documents room and requires researchers to purchase document copies from them. Is this restriction legal ?
A: The California Public Records Act (CPRA), in pertinent part, only requires that an agency’s records be “open for inspection”, Govt. Code section 6253(a), and that “upon request for a copy of records . . . [the agency] shall make the records promptly available upon payment of fees covering the direct costs of duplication, or a statutory fee if applicable” Govt. Code section 6253(b).
Nothing in the law either requires or forbids the agency from permitting private individuals from making their own copies of such records with a camera, scanner or their own copier.
It is therefore unlikely to be a violation of the Public Records Act to restrict records requestors from making their own copies. However, no court of which I am aware has considered the issue.
Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to First Amendment Coalition hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.