Alabama Code § 36-12-41 (2001) provides as follows: "Every public officer having the custody of a public writing which a citizen has a right to inspect is bound to give him, on demand, a certified copy of it, on payment of the legal fees therefor . . . ." The Alabama Public Records Law includes no schedule or level of fees for the copying of public records without certification; therefore, the custodian in question is at liberty to fix a reasonable fee to be charged, unless the fee is set by statute or rule. See, e.g., Birmingham News Co. v. Peevy, 21 Media L. Rep. (BNA) 2125, 2125 (Cir. Ct. of Montgomery County, Ala., July 22, 1993) (statutory fee of $5.75 per individual driver's record requested, despite existence of computer database with all driving records) (as of Sept. 13, 1997, access to motor vehicle records is governed by 18 U.S.C. § 2721).
One Alabama Attorney General opinion states the following policy regarding fees:
If possible, a public agency should provide free copies of public records. However, if budgetary constraints prevent this, then a public agency may charge a nominal fee, if necessary, to cover its costs in providing copies of public records. One may inspect public records without paying a fee unless a substantial amount of an employee's time is required.
251 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 38 (June 12, 1998); see also 184 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 27, 28 (Aug. 15, 1981); 200 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 25, 26 (Aug. 20, 1985 (agency "entitled to receive a nominal fee for the reproduction of any requested information"). A reasonable fee may be assessed for the actual cost of providing copies and for retrieving information. Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. No. 2007-067, 2007 Ala. AG LEXIS 40 (Apr. 3, 2007); see also 202 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 19, 20 (Jan. 24, 1986); 208 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 28, 30 (Sept. 2, 1987); 209 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 29 (Nov. 4, 1987); 212 Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. 26, 27 (Aug. 1, 1988).
The Alabama Attorney General has stated that the cost of seeking legal advice regarding a records request may not be included in the cost charged by the agency for providing access to or copying the requested records. Op. Att'y Gen. Ala. No. 2008-073, 2008 Ala. AG LEXIS 43 (Apr. 21, 2008).