California: Public Records Should Be Public Domain

Victory! On June 22, 2016, the California Legislature abandoned its efforts to copyright all government works. 


In California, government documents are part of the public domain. You can republish, reuse, and repurpose government works freely, because they belong to you. But now, the California Legislature wants to burden government works with copyright restrictions—paving the way for new censorship tactics.

The public domain status of federal government works is enshrined in the Copyright Act. Until now California has followed the same core principle—documents, pamphlets, photos, videos, and datasets produced by the state are public domain. A.B. 2880, a bill quickly moving in the legislature, would overturn that idea, allowing governments—at the state, county, and local level—to exercise copyright restrictions on the materials they produce. This bill threatens government transparency and sets the stage for censorship and suppression of public information.

  • A county official could scrub an embarrassing press release from the government’s website. They could could then file DMCA takedown notices to remove preserved copies of that document from other websites.
  • A city council doesn’t like how a resident remixed video of public meetings; the city could take the citizen to court, threaten massive damages, and make him prove it’s fair use. (This actually happened!)
  • A state agency stop companies from making public data more accessible—even after the data is legally obtained through the California Public Records Act.

We need to stop this wrongheaded copyright grab by the legislature. Public records belong in the public domain.

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