The PA Office of Open Records has ruled that citizens may photograph public records without being charged a fee. In a case in Reserve Township, near Pittburgh, a citizen wished to view certain expenses incurred by the township. He was told he could not take photos of the records with his smartphone , he could only inspect them or pay for photocopies. This ruling by the state says otherwise:
… prohibiting the photographing of documents would be contrary to the purpose of the [Right to Know Law], which is to ‘maximize access to government records.’
Similar situation in North East
This case is very similar to a situation we encountered in North East Township when requesting previous budgets and audits. We asked for a digital copy to make it quick, easy and cost free for the township, but we were charged by the page the same as if photocopies had been made. When we noted there was no actual cost and the law prohibits charging for the time to provide the files, the township refunded the charges.
Copy fees are holdovers from the pre-internet era
The idea that citizens should be charged comes from an earlier time when physical copies were the only ones available. Now that digital copies are easily provided and smartphones with high resolution cameras can quickly snap a photo, the cost of complying with open records requests is essentially zero. To insist on charges is more of a way to reduce the requests for records than to recover any actual costs. This ruling by the state is a welcome clarification.
Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette