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SCVNews.com | State Assembly Rejects Transparency, Votes to Allow Govt. to Copyright Public Records | 06-02-2016
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(CN) — The California Assembly on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill giving the state a copyright claim on public records, overriding vigorous opposition from California newspapers and Internet businesses.

In the legislative body dominated by Democrats, AB 2880 passed by 58-1 despite warnings about the bill’s over-reach and damage to the public’s right to read and share the wealth of information generated by California agencies and local governments, including maps, reports and even videotaped hearings.

Democrats to a member voted in favor.

A lone Republican voted against the measure which would allow California and local county governments to claim a copyright in any work created at taxpayer expense, casting a shadow of litigation over public discourse.

The bill was opposed by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, representing most newspapers in the state, as well as the Internet Association representing web giants such as Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Amazon, E-Bay, Snapchat, Google and Yahoo.

Born from a recent dispute between an ex-concessionaire and the federal government over Yosemite National Park trademarks, the bill’s author on Thursday convinced the Assembly that California should drastically extend its law and claim ownership of all intellectual property created by public employees.

“What this bill does is protect any trademarks and patents and asks the state for those intellectual property items that it has to catalogue and manage those in the best interest of the public,” Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterrey Bay said while presenting the bill for a vote.

With just three minutes of floor discussion, the bill was passed and moved on to the California Senate for a committee assignment that will be announced Friday.

Assemblyman Travis Allen was on the only voice against the bill. A Republican from Huntington Beach south of Los Angeles, Allen argued that federal agencies are barred from copyrighting public works for good reason, urging his colleagues to vote against the bill.

“This presents a serious issue and would grant state government the power to suppress dissemination of government-funded works,” Allen said.

He argued that a series of amendments added to the bill earlier this week do not sufficiently safeguard against state agencies choosing to deny the fair use of public information.

Jim Ewert, general counsel for the California publishers association, said he wasn’t surprised that the bill passed but shocked by the lopsided vote. He echoed Allen’s concerns that exemptions, meant to protect requests under the California Public Records Act, don’t go far enough.

In a letter sent on Thursday, the CNPA, Internet Association and the California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill’s author, Assembly Member Mark Stone, a Democrat from Monterey Bay along California’s central coast.

“The California Public Records Act expressly states that it does not limit any copyright protections,” says the letter, rendering the law powerless to override copyright claims by government agencies. “Citizens should not have to beg a state agency for access to government information.”

A day earlier, Peter Scheer, executive director for the First Amendment Coalition in California, described the bill as “a remedy in search of a problem,” and the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation has also criticized the bill’s creation of a weapon that local bureaucrats can use to suppress speech.

The proposal was introduced by the Assembly Judiciary Committee in February and cleared two Assembly committees unanimously ahead of Thursday’s floor vote. The bill has been amended twice, with the most recent changes published Wednesday.

Ewert says the publishers association will continue to lobby against the bill as it circulates through the Senate and that he is open to meeting again with Stone regarding possible changes.

In the build-up to the vote, Scheer with the First Amendment Coalition, said the law was certain to be abused by government officials. “I’m sure it’s going to be done with the best intentions initially,” he said, “but I’m also sure it will be abused once a journalist asks for something potentially embarrassing or newsworthy.”

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9 Comments

  1. Tina Fender Tina Fender says:

    This is disgusting!

  2. luis madar says:

    Right now these internet purveyors and newspapers have too broad an interpretation of “the public’s right to know” which extends to extreme violations of our personal privacy, so we DO need to stop and think and carefully evaluate how much and when to release info just because it’s considered “public.” “Public” often has too broad an interpretation stemming from the pre-internet days when a REAL reporter with credentials had to go in person to a county or any government office to look up records: now it’s all on the internet and often sold.

    With the exception of the U.S. other countries incl. Europe require a person’s permission to disseminate private data not the other way around — why do you think the U.S. accounts for more than half the world’s ID theft victims? Government does NOTHING to stop sleazy peddlers from putting your DOB, SS#, address/ phone/ relatives, financials from your divorce — do you know ANYONE can access that in CA? — online and then DUH we have to pay co’s like LifeLock to monitor theft after the fact and the FBI if it’s major…

    On the OTHER HAND public meetings and things that are truly “public” SHOULD be allowed to be disseminatred on the internet and in print and media with certain safeguards.

    • Vince kilbride says:

      Really some of us are proud of what we have done for others or are trying to do in the interest of others. We have seen injustice that creates injustice and greed corruption wrongful persicution and incrimination. The first Amendment is probably the most Inportant to everyone.

    • SCVNews.com says:

      Luis – you’re conflating various federal laws with state & federal copyright statutes. This is about copyright law. It is not about privacy laws, or espionage laws, or any other law that bars the release of certain kinds of information in certain situations. This is about copyright law. This is about the state telling cities and counties they can use copyright law to stop the press from publishing official government documents showing malfeasance in office. For example.

      • luis madar says:

        If you own the copyright to something you can dictate how it’s used or not so they are intertwined. But this case is really about the “press” or “media” to be able to publish what they want ostensibly for the public good but as THEY decide that to be — it can often be and is used for example, to embarrass someone for personal reasons, it can be sensationalized; the National Enquirer and some blogger with no ethical standards at all except getting a moment of fame has the same “rights,” there is no licensing body for “journalists” like for lawyers or many professions, anything goes and anyone self-qualifies.
        As for the example you use, copyrighting a document does not stop a reporter or any individual present at a hearing from writing and publishing their NOTES, RIGHT? THEY have a copyright to that.
        — I see no reason at all that ANYONE calling themselves a reporter or any “media outlet” can take and print any document they want, that is a self-serving argument.

        • SCVNews.com says:

          (1) We run a historic archive (scvhistory.com), which is a research library. A large part of the research library is official government documents. If the government decides it can restrict those documents and keep them out of the library, it inhibits people who are trying to do current and future research. (2) The federal government has no copyright protection, but for the sake of argument, imagine having no Pentagon Papers, no Tower Commission report, no 9/11 Commission report, no Abu Ghraib documents. Now imagine the equivalent at the state level. Sometimes the original documents are what the public needs to see. If the government tosses out the First Amendment (or Article 2 of the state Constitution) and denies the public the right to disseminate whatever documents the government feels like withholding, it is one giant step toward communism.

          • luis madar says:

            As for throwing in the communism issue: my parents emigrated from a communist country in the late 60’s as dissidents genuinely fearing for their lives, so I know all about what went on in those days from them, research and going back myself in the late 80’s and since..
            there is NO comparison any more than Trump can be compared to Hitler! The closest might actually be places like Kenya, Turkey, Mexico (other than N. Korea or China) — where journalists are imprisoned or even killed for their speech, whether by government, Mafia, cartels, etc.

            My parents left their families and affluent home because if you criticized “the Party” or powers that be you were severely punished…even when I went back as a college student, as the son of dissidents I was tailed by a none too cleverly disguised spy, but I was on a special honorary student visa so they had to admit me…

            Wherever there is internet (even China increasingly) more or less freely accessed AND our First Amendment rights upheld by the courts, that is extremely unlikely — however this freedom is being abused by internet purveyors of information AND “the media,” they can’t claim they’re always “saving us from evil.” sometimes they do more harm than good.
            Honestly I’d have to know more real examples about cases that have arisen WRT this specific bill to have a definitive opinion, I’m just saying I don’t assume that anyone calling themselves “a journalist” has a right to get and publish anything they want.

  3. jim says:

    Most people who don’t read these bills won’t realize how just how much this can limit ANYONE from publishing/providing access to files, letters, video and audio recordings, and even public statements made by public officials. The People’s right to know what their elected officials are doing is already limited in many ways.

    Since no examples have been published so far, I’ll throw a quick one in with a link so folks can read about a recent event in SoCal that will be repeated thousands of times in the future if the State Senate and Governor approve and sign AB 2880.

    “Copy Wrong: City of Inglewood” can be found at:

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2016/03/foilies-2016-recognizing-worst-government-responses-public-records-requests/#copywrong

    You might want to read the rest of the stories to get an idea of just how bad things are behind the closed doors of goverment.

  4. luis madar says:

    Wanted to add above but can’t edit: while I fully understand the argument from both sides and that politicians are notoriously “shady” and probably some would abuse power even more with no “sunshine” from media and general public who take an interest: the “media” is now equally self-serving and is a non-exclusive club where anyone qualifies to self-join, and there is no accountability for what THEY write.
    My belief is there should be a more nuanced discussion and limits on both sides. AND yes, this is part of the mentality that “once something is public record it can be disclosed and disseminated however embarrassing or invasive of privacy,” even though I understand this states it applies specifically to IP’s written or produced by public employees at taxpayer expense.

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