US: The California Court of Appeal (4th Dist.) in Santa Ana, US, ruled that state agencies can charge licensing fees to the public for access to GIS data.
In July 2008, the Sierra Club submitted a public records request for Orange County’s “parcel geographic data in a GIS file format,” which meant that the data could have been analysed, viewed and managed with GIS software. Under California law, someone asking for public records would normally only have to pay the cost of duplicating the documents, which is usually minimal in the case of electronic records.
However, Orange County asked for a licensing fee. When the Sierra Club refused to pay it, the county instead offered to give them copies of the documents “containing the parcel related information in PDF format or printed copies,” the court said.
The court found that the exemption’s legislative history made clear that part of the purpose of the exemption is to allow public agencies to recoup the costs of developing and maintaining computer mapping systems. The exemption at issue does not specifically define “computer mapping system,” but, in interpreting the term, the court found that the database contained within the system was inseparable from the system itself, and, thus, could be leased, licensed or sold along with the system.
The Sierra Club is “definitely considering petitioning the [California] Supreme Court for review,” said Sabrina Venskus, the attorney who represented the group in the case.
According to report published on RCFP.org, the decision could also create confusion in California, where, in 2009, the Court of Appeal (6th Dist.) held, in County of Santa Clara v. Superior Court, that GIS-formatted electronic mapping records must be released to the public under the public records act.