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When did it become an offense to ask town officials to do their job?  

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not my real name
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When did it become an offense to ask town officials to do their job?

I think this problem stems from the fact that town officials are elected and therefore do not meet any professional standards for qualification other than being popular. In most case being popular isn’t even necessary because only one person runs in the election.

Take the Town Clerk as an example. Probably on the job for a year or so before being replaced by another political hack, this person will manage the more mundane aspects of the job like issuing dog licenses. When confronted with a request that requires actual effort will become confrontational and obstinate.

Records on the status and layout of town highways are the responsibility of the Town Clerk. So where are the records? The Town Clerk does not know. Perhaps the previous office holders did know something about their duties. The knowledge has become more and more lost with each passing year.

They put me on hold and patch my call to the Assessor. What does the Assessor have to do with any of this? I am told it must be a private road. Is there any document?  I get the same answer. Is that your opinion? Record deeds in the area state the road is old and abandoned, not private. I get the same answer.

I may attempt once more to get a definitive answer from the town. Otherwise my map will state that the status of the road is undetermined and that records of the town are inaccessible.

 

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Duane Frymire
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Once a highway always a highway, unless the contrary can be shown.  Sometimes you can get on their good side and they'll do wonders for you, sometimes not so much.  But I wouldn't expect a town clerk to know anything about roads in the town.  They could help find out about them though.  No telling who knows what, so I wouldn't complain about asking anyone including assessor.

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Cee Gee
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I've run into this countless times here in central Maine. Your big mistake was trying to get this information over the phone. Municipal personnel will take you much more seriously if you're standing in front of them in flesh and blood and looking a bit like you're not leaving until you get some answers. They don't like looking anyone in the eyes and saying, in effect, "I don't have a clue." In person quite often they'll take some time to hunt down some answers or to find some fellow employee who has them. I've had them fetch the Town Manager who in some cases has gone into files in the back room that no one else knows about. He or she usually understands that your questions involve serious topics and that the Town should be able to answer them. I also find that old fashioned letters on paper sent by "snail mail" get more attention than phone calls (or email).

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Jim Frame
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I also find that old fashioned letters on paper sent by "snail mail" get more attention than phone calls (or email).

After decades of frustration at the absence of online maps in my home county, despite conversations on the subject with three successive Clerk-Recorders, I finally asked Recorder's Office staff of I could get digital copies of all the filed maps, the same digital files they use to print (and sell at $11 a sheet) paper copies.  The initial response was "We don't do that."  When I then asked if I should pursue this under the provisions of the California Public Records Act, I was told that I needed to contact the Clerk-Recorder directly.

My first attempt was via email, in which I reminded him of our discussion several years back, and asked informally for digital copies of the maps, which I estimated would constitute about 10GB of data and could be copied with just a few commands.  That email got no response.

About a month later I sent a formal PRA request by postal mail.  Two months went by with no response.  

Next I sent a follow up letter noting the lack of compliance with the law (which requires a written response within 10 days), but I cc'd County Counsel this time.  A few days later I got a nice letter from Counsel starting that the Clerk-Recorder would review the request and respond directly. 

About 10 days after that I got a letter from the Clerk-Recorder saying that they would comply with the request (though he included a vague statement along the lines of "this one time"), and that I would be hearing from a staffer regarding cost of the media, which they would supply for security reasons.

That was about 3 weeks ago, and I still don't have the maps.  I guess it's about time for another follow up letter, cc'ing Counsel again.

 

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R.J. Schneider
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Just reading that and thinking; at ~5mb/map @$11, you just FOId roughly $22k in county revenue.

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Woopigsurveyor
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By federal copyright law them copying those records and supplying them to you appears to be 1 count of copyright infringement per record. Even if they are public record the information on them is public for you to see, however the plat/map appears to be covered by copyright law and illegal to reproduce.

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Dave Karoly
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I don't think so. Lots of counties issue DVDs with the maps on them or have them up on the public website for anyone to download.

 

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Jim Frame
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My research into copyright in connection with the unauthorized reproduction of an ALTA survey some years ago led me to conclude that survey maps aren't, in general, covered because they present facts rather than original works.  And a map deposited in the public record is certainly not subject to copyright, except as it concerns things like logos or other artistic features, and even those are subject to the fair use doctrine, i.e. they're incidental to the purpose of the copy.

Not only am i unconcerned about copyright violations regarding my receipt of the copies, I fully intend to make them available to others once I get them.

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A Harris
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The copyright infringement begins when someone that has purchased copy of recorded drawings or other public recordings and begins to advertise and/or starts selling copies of that copy to others whether it be a hard copy or digital copy or copy of in any form.

 

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Dave Karoly
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I've never heard of a surveyor selling multiple copies of someone else's map. The purpose of obtaining a copy is to see what another surveyor did so that it can be reflected on my map and so that I know what to look for.

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A Harris
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@ Dave & Jim

There is a situation that began a few years ago where a company obtained most of the county clerk digital data for most of Texas.

They started advertising to sell the data over an online service at a price per page to whoever wanted to purchase the data.

How they obtained the data without paying any of the clerks was one of the main topics of the State of Texas demanded to find out and copyright infringement was another cause that the clerks in Texas had claim to the data and were never contacted or sent the company any of the data.

It was a couple of years ago and I do not remember the name of the company and after the news was made public everything went silent and I have not found anything about the matter and I have not received any advertisement from anyone new that has offered any digital data for sale.

When the counties went online their sites lacked the necessary security to keep hackers out of their library of digital data. It was very easy to download a file converter from the web to download the data without paying.

And, NO, I did not get any data that way, have paid for everything I have and have the receipts from the local County Clerk.

I believe the dollar value of the data the State of Texas Attorney General wanted from the company was $700 million, that being the estimated pages of data was collected in the data breach.

If I can find anything on this I will post it here.

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Jim Frame
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The difference between Texas and California law may be germane.  The California Public Records Act states that, with certain exceptions related to privacy, proprietary or preliminary data, any information held by a public agency must be provided to a requestor in the format in which it is held and at the cost of reproduction.  The law has been tested many times, perhaps most notably in a 2013 California Supreme Court ruling that Orange County's GIS parcel database is a public record subject to disclosure under the CPRA.  That ruling obviates any claim of copyright to public map data in California.

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Glenn Breysacher
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Jim,

 

No, there's no substantial difference here in Texas from what you've stated above.

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Jim Frame
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So the other counties around here that put all their filed maps online without charge or even registration are infringing on copyright?  I don't think so.

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Cee Gee
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Posted by: Woopigsurveyor

By federal copyright law them copying those records and supplying them to you appears to be 1 count of copyright infringement per record. Even if they are public record the information on them is public for you to see, however the plat/map appears to be covered by copyright law and illegal to reproduce.

I'm no lawyer but I suspect that most of the uses under discussion here would come under the "fair use" exception to the copyright laws.

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aliquot
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The copyright issue has been discussed ad infenetum here. The resulting consensus is that surveys are not covered, unless they are a survey of a fictitious parcel. 

Even in they were covered, I would guess that once they are entered into the public record by the surveyor any copyright protection would be void. 

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Woopigsurveyor
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The map you draw of a parcel is covered by copyright law against reproduction even if it is filed as public record. Just like a book in a library is of public record however you can not make copies of it. You can view it and take notes of the factual information contained on the plat however the actual plat and the way the information is represented is intellectual property. There is existing case law that backs up the fact that maps are protected by copyright, but the information contained on the face of the map is not. The actual act of copying and/or distributing copies of maps without permission appears to be in direct violation of federal copyright law based on the case law that I could find. We just had a massive issue with a company foia requesting the surveys in our state so I did the research and found that since it is copyright protected it is exempt from those requests. I am not a lawyer however it is pretty easy to find the existing case law that makes this very clear.

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Jim Frame
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The library book analogy isn't apt - a library book isn't a public record, it's a commercial product more analogous to software, which is a protected work that cannot be copied without infringing on copyright. 

In my opinion, a filed map - in California, anyway - is expressly intended to be copied and distributed in order to inform the public of the status of the cadastral fabric.  The creator may retain rights to certain elements of the maps (e.g. a company logo) , but even those may be reproduced under the fair use doctrine.

Given the long and widespread history of counties distributing copies of filed maps, I would think that any  of action claiming copyright violation would quickly get laughed out of court.

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Woopigsurveyor
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So your survey maps are not commercial products? Just to be clear I am not talking about state law but it is a clear violation of Federal law. Your plat is intellectual property even if you don't think that you created it. The one exception may be ALTA surveys since they are, in a way, form documents. However the court cases I have found even cover GIS maps. Interestingly enough IF you do the survey for a governmental body then they have the right to distribute. It was quite an interesting research project. On publicly filed private maps any element that could be done differently based on the person doing it is considered intellectual property and can not be copied. You can however take any of the factual information off the face of the map and also reference said map. It is the actual copying of the map that is federally illegal. My personal opinion is that as long as they are stripped of all stamps etc. so that they can not be reused and are not being sold I would not have an issue with it. However as Federal copy right law is written it is still completely illegal. It would take a court setting new precedent and ignoring all old rulings to change that. Makes for a quite interesting search if you go looking for the court cases. The line work, placing of symbols, line types, fonts, north arrow, even scale are decided by the surveyor. I could not find any exceptions to the federal law that would exempt maps, survey or otherwise. 

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Woopigsurveyor
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To be clear this is more of an issue with someone acquiring the records for the purpose of redistributing them, not a surveyor using them for his personal research purposes.

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not my real name
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In other words... Never mind.

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P_Bob
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Yes, as far as I'm aware, survey maps filed at the County Clerk's office, even if copyright protected, can be reproduced under the fair use doctrine.  The nominal fee the Clerk's office charges for the copy wouldn't be considered selling it for profit.

 

Could you imagine not being able to get a copy of a filed survey map to use for a retracement survey? 

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Edward Reading
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Glad that you are making progress on this Jim.

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thebionicman
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If someone calls here I try to help them. As a new employee there are questions I can't answer. Sometimes a question is so obscure nobody can answer without research.

I patiently explain that to callers all the time. Most get it. Some never will...

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aliquot
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You have identified a problem that comes from electing officials responsible for the routine operations of government. Who thinks an election for county surveyor makes sense?

In my experience, places that have career employees responsible for  day to day decisions are more likely to have higher functioning services, although I have of course seen the contrary also.

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