Copyrighted material is protected from copying and redistribution under the Sunshine Law

Heads up to city clerks. City Clerks need to be aware that they are prohibited by law from copying and redistribution of copyrighted material under  a recent case decided by the Missouri Court of Appeals. In this case the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) a private non-profit “policy and research organization that’s working towards making sure that every child has an effective teacher.” NCTQ submitted a request to the University of Missouri (University), pursuant to the Sunshine Law, asking the University to produce various records, including “syllabi that students actually receive from their professors.” In response, the University disclosed some of the requested documents but withheld the requested syllabi on the basis that the syllabi were exempt from disclosure under section 610.021 (14) of the Sunshine Law, which protects records from “…disclosure by law.”

NCTQ filed a Petition against the University asking the court to compel production of the course syllabi. After a hearing the court denied access to the requested syllabi on the grounds that the copyrighted material was protected from copying and redistribution was exempt under section 610.021 (14) of the Sunshine Law by the Federal Copyright Act, which prohibits copying and reproduction of copyrighted material. The trial court’s decision was appealed to the Western District, which decision was affirmed.

In a case of first impression, the Western District held that material protected under Federal Copyright Act was protected from “copying and redistribution” as a closed record under section 610.021 (14) of the Sunshine Law by the provision that protects records from “… disclosure by law.”

While most records in the possession of a local governmental agency are not copyrighted there are of course many records in the possession of the city that are protected under the copyright law. Identification of records that have been copyrighted would seem to be fairly simple but my review suggests otherwise, which is one reason why above the case needs to be reversed. For a criticism of this decision see my comments in the MMAA newsletter.

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