FOI Daily Dose: California Supreme Court rules digital maps not exempt from Public Records Act

California’s Supreme Court granted free public access to digital maps of Orange County once exempt as computer software and only available to business groups, according to Voice of OC.

The Sierra Club asked for access to digital maps called the OC Landbase in 2005 to study how to best manage open space parcels in public lands and create wildlife corridors.

But Orange County denied their request, claiming the maps were exempt from the California Public Records Act as the product of computer software.

Section 6254.9 of the Public Records Act says: “Computer software developed by a state or local agency is not itself a public record under this chapter. The agency may sell, lease, or license the software for commercial or noncommercial use.”

But in a June 8 ruling, the court determined that although computer software is still exempt from the Public Records Act, the product of that software—a GIS-formatted database called OC Landbase, in this case—is not exempt.

“I don’t think that government should be in the business of selling public records for profit,” Dean Wallraff, one of Sierra Club’s two leading attorneys, told Voice of OC.

County documents show the OC Landbase cost them $3.5 million to develop during the last five years,  and its licensing deals have brought in fewer than $1 million. That won’t even cover the $1-million legal tab racked up in the records fight. Voice of OC said the bill might fall to taxpayers.

The court opinion showed Orange County was one of nine counties not providing access to Geographic Information System-formatted parcel base maps.

Wallraff told Voice of OC this decision opens the door for other California counties to access their digital maps.

Kara Hackett is SPJ’s Pulliam/Kilgore Freedom of Information intern, a freelance writer and a free press enthusiast. Contact her at khackett@spj.org or on Twitter: @KaraHackett.

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  • Kara Hackett

    Hi Virginia Beach Hvac,

    Thanks for the comment. Running a Google search of keywords in the headline (California Supreme Court, digital maps, public records) brings up tons of other stories. I recommend the LA Times article and the RCFP article. You can also access the Voice of OC story and the original court ruling using the links in my story above.

    Hope this helps!

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