CPRA and copyright
Q: I have requested digital tax map data from the County, which claims their data is copyrighted, therefore, exempt from disclosure. Additionally, they said they will sell it, but the cost is $150,000. The CA Attorney General just provided an Opinion that county digital tax map data is public record. See http://caag.state.ca.us/opinions/published/04-1105.pdf. Is County correct in saying their data is exempt just because it’s copyrighted?I could not find a copyright registration to support their claim.
A: It is difficult to answer your question with certainty. Maps may be copyrighted in general. The attorney general opinion that you cite does not squarely dispose of the question you are asking. It states that maps are covered as public records under the CPRA. At least one court in Florida has held that when that states’ public record act makes a map a public record, this means that the state is abrogating any copyright it might hold in the map. See Microdecisions, Inc. v. Skinner, 889 So.3d 871 (Ct.App. Fla 2005). On the other hand, another court indicated that New York’s Freedom of Information Law did not abrogate that state’s copyright in official tax maps. County of Suffolk v. First American Real Estate Solutions, 261 F.3d 179 (2d Cir. 2001). (I should disclose that a predecessor to this firm represented the publisher in that case).We are not aware of controlling caselaw on this point in California, and the Attorney General opinion does not directly address it. Assuming, for the moment, that the California (or 9th Circuit federal) courts were to follow the less favorable opinion, County of Suffolk, you could still argue that the county is required to provide you with a single copy of the requested records at the statutory price per page. Even the court in that opinion seemed to recognize the right to obtain disclosure of the record under the NYFOIL. Id. at 191-192. But the County would then be able enforce its copyright to prevent you from further duplicating the work.