Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Government Owns Copyright of Public Documents

Although mostly known for college football, West Virginia brings us a case of major First Amendment and intellectual property import, which if upheld may find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, the Kanawha County Tax Assessor asked the West Virginia Circuit Court of Kanawha County to force Seneca Technologies to remove maps Seneca Technologies had posted on its website. These maps are the complete county property tax maps for the state of West Virginia. Seneca had paid to obtain these maps from the West Virginia State Department of Tax and Revenue after Seneca won a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Seneca is providing these maps on its website free of charge instead of the $8 per map that all West Virginia tax assessors charge.

The County Tax assessor claims that Seneca is posting copyrighted material. Seneca counters by arguing that the maps “convey only facts and not ideas or expressions.” Buttressing this argument, Seneca argues that the Tax Assessor’s attempt to bar the internet posting of these public documents is an unconstitutional prior restraint of free speech.

Arguing for Seneca on February 8th is Public Citizen.



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