Some counties, such as Finney County, have completely banned cameras from the
office. Others, like Seward County, have begun to charge a fee of $25 per day,
per camera. The fee is apparently charged because "at least one group had laid
the books extra flat, the binding had begun to fray." The fee is to help
maintain the books.
At least one county clerk has spoke out against banning cameras, stating that
"they are open records, and it's a digital world."
We had similar issues in Ohio when the state doubled the statutory rates
charged by county officials to fund a housing program. When copies went from
$1.00 per page to $2.00, people started using digital cameras and pen scanners.
Some county officials, looking to protect their copy revenue, objected with
claims that the books were being harmed by the camera flash and light emitted
from the pen scanners (which was powered by a teeny-tiny watch battery).
Before anyone really had to deal with the issue of whether the counties could
ban the technology, someone requested an Attorney General's opinion on the
legality of charging more than the actual cost of reproduction for Public
Records. (see "Correction" comment below). According the the opinion,
if a county employee made the copy, they were required to charge the statutory
fee of $2.00. However, if the county permitted the visitor to make their own
copy they could only charge actual cost - usually between 10 and 25 cents per
page. Most counties allow visitors to make their own copies. But, a few
counties, desperately trying to hold on to their copy revenue, require their
employees to make the copies.
This increase in copy fees didn't work out so well for most counties. Our
copy bills went from a few hundred dollars a month, to ten or fifteen dollars.
Personally, I believe that fifty cents per page, as they charge in Ford
County, is a reasonable fee for copies. When you consider the extra work
involved in trying to use cameras and portable scanners, it isn't worth getting
too creative. You might as well just pay the fifty cents and get a good, clean
copy. However, much beyond that and the savings may be significant enough to
warrant trying alternative methods of reproduction.
I don't believe that counties should ban cameras. The documents are
public record and if you are permitted to view them, you should be able to snap
a picture if you want to. There doesn't seem to be any real harm, despite
claims that laying the books extra flat damages the binding. Banning cameras is
obviously a move to protect their revenue from copies. The sad thing is that
counties across the country are practically giving away the records through bulk
sales to large corporations who pay a fraction of a penny per copy.
(See Courthouse for Sale.
While fighting local title professionals, and genealogists, over fifty cents
per page for a few dozen copies each day - many counties are sending CD's
containing up to 100,000 pages for as little as $10. That doesn't seem to make
much sense to me. The resources wasted trying to keep local visitors from
saving twenty or thirty dollars is insane when you consider that some counties
are losing up to $50,000 per CD in bulk sales.
Perhaps fighting the large corporations, and their attorneys, who are more
than willing to file lawsuits to enforce their document requests under the
Freedom of Information Act is just too daunting. But it seems rather
disingenuous to fight to hold on to a revenue stream that is minuscule in
comparison to what they are selling out the backdoor in the form of bulk sales
for as little as a tenth of penny per page.