SPJ San Diego on a threat to open records

The state’s open records law is under threat by new legislation that would allow state government agencies to claim they have copyright ownership of “intellectual property developed by (government) employees or with state funding.” The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists believes strongly that this bill amounts to a giant step backward in terms of free press and public access to the government’s business.

AB2880 would authorize the California Department of General Services to develop a database for “intellectual property” that should be “protected,” yet this work is done on behalf of the public, paid for by the public and used by the public. One recent example of how such legislative protection could be abused involves an attempt by the city of Inglewood to claim copyright protection over city-created video records of council meetings.

A federal judge just ruled the city had no power to make such a claim, and we can only imagine the mischief this sort of censorship might allow California government agencies to engage in. Worse, state or local governments would have the power to seek damages up to $30,000 for each improper use and potentially $150,000 for willful misconduct by those who use the state’s “intellectual property.”

Freedom of the press and the public’s right to know would suffer a serious blow, if it fell to the government to give permission to use materials created by state or local government employees. The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists joins the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Californians Aware and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in opposing AB2880 and reminding lawmakers they should represent the interests of the public.

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