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Overcharging for records limits transparency, Reporters Committee brief argues

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  1. Freedom of Information
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reject Cuyahoga County’s extreme reproduction…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to reject Cuyahoga County’s extreme reproduction fees for electronic real estate records. The friend-of-the-court brief argues that the imposition of six-figure fees to access electronic real estate records will dramatically curtail valuable public-interest reporting on the Ohio real estate market.

The brief argues that a $2 per page copying fee for “photocopying” services applied by the Cuyahoga County Recorder to requests for electronic copies of local real estate records not only is overly broad, but also conflicts with long-standing state law. Further, if the fee structure is upheld, it would likely have to be implemented by other recorders throughout the state, no matter if their current fee structure is more reasonable.

“Charging $208,000 for copying a couple of CD-ROMs is outrageous and nonsensical,” Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish said. “There is no comparison between the resources expended when an employee physically photocopies pages and pages of documents one at a time on a machine, and the act of popping a CD into a computer and hitting ‘copy all files.’ The records should be provided at the actual cost of reproduction.

“Equally important, if this fee is upheld, investigative watchdog journalism throughout the state would be fatally damaged,” she added. “Stories in the public interest — such as reporting mortgage fraud, property flipping schemes and good-old-fashioned government negligence — would simply be too expensive to research.”

Cuyahoga County appears to be the only county in Ohio where the Recorder charges outrageously excessive fees to get copies of the public real estate records. The brief is filed in Data Trace Information Services, LLC, et al. v. Recorder of Cuyahoga County, Ohio.

Founded in 1970 to combat an increase in subpoenas seeking reporters' confidential sources, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail.

In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee sets up special-event reporters' hotlines, is a party in amicus briefs and statements of support, and it offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists year-round. For more information, go to www.rcfp.org, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.