Commonwealth Court Ruling on Copyright Act

How Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law intersects with the federal Copyright Act was at the center of a case decided by Commonwealth Court earlier today.

In Jihad Ali v. Philadelphia City Planning Commission, the court held that the Copyright Act does not prevent disclosure of public records:

“Based on our review of the Copyright Act and our precedent, we conclude that Copyright Act is not a federal law that exempts materials from disclosure under the RTKL. It neither expressly makes copyrighted material private or confidential, nor does it expressly preclude a government agency, lawfully in possession of the copyrighted material, from disclosing that material to the public.”

The ruling also holds that while duplication of copyrighted public records may be limited by the federal Copyright Act, inspection of those records is not limited:

“The Copyright Act limits the level of access to a public record only with respect to duplication, not inspection. The public record must, therefore, still be made available for inspection under the RTKL, allowing the public to scrutinize a local agency’s reliance on or consideration of the copyrighted material.”

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