11 November 2014
|Line of Locks,
The genesis for this post was a question posted in a Facebook group back in September (unfortunately, I didn’t happen to note which one and try as I might, I cannot re-find the original post. If you participated in this thread or recognize the post, please drop a comment and I’ll add in a link).
It started when Allison Graves posted a link to Alabama state attorney: Photographing public records for free is ‘stealing’ which starts out by stating ...
In what would appear to be a case of government run amuck, at least two state agencies in
won’t let people take pictures of public records, with an attorney for one equating the idea with stealing. Alabama
Allison queried Judy G Russell (The Legal Genealogist) and that got the comment ball rolling.
I, for one, don’t necessarily expect records, even public records, to necessarily be free – especially given that there are real costs to preserving said documents. In
, many records are made available “at cost” and the Attorney General’s Office has a nifty publication, Guide to Open Government and Public Records where it is stated, page 2 “Any fee charged must not exceed the actual cost of searching for and making copies. No fees may be
charged for inspecting public records.”
Therefore, in NC, if you inspect a public record, this seems to suggest
there is no cost for you to photograph such a record. This document goes on to say, page 5 ... North Carolina
For uncertified copies, agencies may not charge fees that are higher than the actual cost of making the copy. “Actual cost” is defined as “direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record as determined by generally accepted accounting principles.” The law does not give examples of actual costs but it does say that actual cost may not include costs the agency would have incurred if the copy request had not been made. That means that under most circumstances, fees may not include the labor costs of the agency employees who make the copies. However, if making the copies involves extensive clerical or supervisory assistance, the agency may charge a special service fee in addition to actual duplication costs.
This definitely holds true for the State Archives of North Carolina where you pay $.10 or more (dependent on format of copy – paper copy, digital copy, etc) for any copy made by them and there is no cost for you to photograph records. In fact, you are required to photograph any “bound” volumes as they are not available to be copied (though one may request digital reproductions for a fee).
That said, and because I have enjoyed this aspect of doing research in government entities in NC, if the budget of the community already encompasses those costs, then I, as a taxpayer, think can have some expectation to be able to photograph such for free. Though, that assumes I can directly access the desired records with no assistance. If assistance is needed, then it does seem reasonable that a fee might be involved.
Back to the Facebook post – some comments told of not being able to take picture of public records in WV or in county courthouses in
and that the Hawaii State Archives charges a fee if you want to photograph documents in their collection. I have
not verified any of these, and, as always, check the rules and regulations of
any archives facility that you visit. New York State
Feel that access to public documents in your community is too restrictive? It’s not too early to start planning to participate in Sunshine Week, March 15-21, 2015.
What do you think? Should you be able to freely photograph public records?
copyright © National Genealogical Society, 3108 Columbia Pike, Suite 300, Arlington, Virginia 22204-4370. http://www.ngsgenealogy.org.
NGS does not imply endorsement of any outside advertiser or other vendors appearing in this blog. Any opinions expressed by guest authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the view of NGS.
Republication of UpFront articles is permitted and encouraged for non-commercial purposes without express permission from NGS. Please drop us a note telling us where and when you are using the article. Express written permission is required if you wish to republish UpFront articles for commercial purposes. You may send a request for express written permission to UpFront@ngsgenealogy.org. All republished articles may not be edited or reworded and must contain the copyright statement found at the bottom of each UpFront article.
Think your friends, colleagues, or fellow genealogy researchers would find this blog post interesting? If so, please let them know that anyone can read past UpFront with NGS posts or subscribe!
Suggestions for topics for future UpFront with NGS posts are always welcome. Please send any suggested topics to UpfrontNGS@mosaicrpm.com
Unless indicated otherwise or clearly an NGS Public Relations piece, Upfront with NGS posts are written by Diane L Richard, editor, Upfront with NGS.
Want to learn more about interacting with the blog, please read Hyperlinks, Subscribing and Comments -- How to Interact with Upfront with NGS Blog posts!