Galef’s Bill to Protect Access to Public Records Passes Assembly

Legislation prevents government agencies from using copyright protections to prohibit public access

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef prohibiting government agencies in New York from claiming copyright protections passed in the Assembly today. The bill, A.04499/S.03988 (sponsored by Reichlin-Melnick in the Senate), will ensure that copyright claims will not hinder the ability of the people of New York to access and use public records. This bill passed the Assembly today as part of “Sunshine Week,” a week in which the Assembly passes a package of bills aimed at increasing government transparency.

Every year in celebration of Sunshine Week, the Assembly reinforces its dedication to strengthening public participation and transparency in government by voting on bills that provide citizens greater access to government materials. Galef’s copyright legislation will allow more of the government’s records to be available to the public without the concern of copyright protections and infringements.

Although the Copyright Act states that work produced for the U.S. Government by its officers and employees is not subject to copyright, it does not mention state and local governments. This loophole allows state and local governments to seek copyright protection on work done as fundamental duties of government. Copyrights and similar protections, such as patents, will still be justifiable when the record reflects artistic creation, scientific, or academic research. The bill also does not prohibit materials from being withheld if the government agency plans to distribute the record or derivative work based on it to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership.

“New York residents and businesses essentially pay for public records as taxpayers. Therefore, these records should be viewable to the public and copyrights should not be claimed,” said Assemblywoman Galef. “Unfortunately, there have been instances when state and local governments have failed to allow the public access to this information. The legislature must continue to support proposals to make it easier for the people to access records so they can use this information to make informed decisions. I look forward to advocating for additional legislation to make New York State more transparent in its actions.”