Christopher Dunn, a third year law student at the School of Law and the owner of a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) business, presented to the managers of MAGIC State Data Clearinghouse on the implications of the California Supreme Court’s recent Sierra Club decision.
The main premise of Dunn’s presentation focused on how the Court’s decision stands as the first, and most developed state supreme court-level opinion on a fairly common and pernicious approach some local governments take when the public asks for access to its GIS data. These governments charge “cost recovery” fees and place end user license restrictions on geospatial data sets, which if stored in any other format would normally be considered typical public records.
The opinion disassembles the local government’s position that it has the right to charge cost-recovery fees to the public for GIS datasets in its possession. The opinion reaffirms the right of Californians to access state-held geospatial datasets in their native formats, for the reasonable cost of duplication; regardless of the costs of development of the dataset, or its potential economic value. The remaining states eventually will have to resolve this question either through comparable litigation or by legislative acts to remove existing statutes allowing local governments to distinguish government-held geospatial data from the rest of their “public records.”