Pictometry International Corporation v. Freedom of Information Commission; Department of Environmental Protection v. Freedom of Information Commission
Public records protected by federal copyright law fall within the "otherwise provided by any federal law" exemption to the Freedom of Information Act found in Connecticut General Statutes §1-210(a). Pictometry International Corporation contracted to license the Department of Environmental Protection to use certain computerized aerial photographic images of sites in Connecticut and associated data that are owned and copyrighted by Pictometry. Stephen Whitaker requested that the DEP provide him with, inter alia, copies of the computerized images and associated data. The DEP responded that the images were not public records subject to the FOIA because, as copyrighted materials, they fell into the federal law exemption. The DEP indicated that Whitaker could obtain copies for the $25 per image fee in the licensing agreement subject to a determination by the Department of Public Works that such disclosure would not pose a safety risk under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(19). Whitaker appealed to the Freedom of Information Commission. The FOIC concluded that the DEP was required to provide copies of the photographic images at its minimum cost, but was not required to provide the associated data found to be trade secrets exempt under C.G.S. §1-210(b)(5)(A). The FOIC ruled that such disclosure would not pose a public safety risk. The trial court affirmed the decision. Pictometry and DEP appealed. The Supreme Court reversed the judgments in the consolidated appeals concluding that the FOIC improperly ordered the DEP to provide copies of the images stripped of their associated data without first determining whether Whitaker wanted the stripped images, whether and how the DEP could comply with the order, and without first providing the DPW and DEP the opportunity to assess the public safety risk. The matter was remanded for further proceedings on these issues. The Supreme Court further concluded that if the FOIC determines that Whitaker wants and is entitled to copies of the stripped images, such copying must be done in compliance with the licensing agreement and federal copyright law, including payment by Whitaker of the $25 per image fee. The FOIC improperly determined that federal copyright law is not a "federal law" under C.G.S. §1-210(a). To the extent that the FOIA and Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. §101, impose conflicting legal obligations, the Copyright Act is a "federal law" for purposes of the exemption.