Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules on WIREdata Case
This litigation concerns the state’s open records law and its application to requests for access to large data bases created by private contractors on behalf of municipalities. The Supreme Court has been asked to consider a number of issues about the scope, timing, procedure, cost and format of electronic records involved in open records requests.
For links to court documents and oral arguments, visit:
Summary of court cases preceding WI Supreme Court Case:
2003 Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Assessment Tech v. WIREdata, 350 F.3d 640 (7th Circuit Court of Appeals). The plaintiff, Assessment Technologies, developed a software program that enabled county assessors to store and analyze property tax assessment information electronically in an AT formatted database. The defendant, WIREdata, acquires assessment data and repackages it in a form that is useful to the real estate community. Some assessors, however, felt that providing copies of their AT databases would be a violation of the license agreement. AT sued WIREdata for copyright infringement and theft of trade secrets. The trial court entered a permanent injunction against WIREdata on the copyright infringement claim, but did not reach the trade secret claim.
The trial court’s decision was reversed on appeal. In his written opinion, Judge Posner stated,
“In reversing the judgment for the plaintiff in this suit for copyright infringement, we described it as a case “about the attempt of a copyright owner to use copyright law to block access to data that not only are neither copyrightable nor copyrighted, but were not created or obtained by the copyright owner; the owner is trying to secrete the data in its copyrighted program—a program the existence of which reduced the likelihood that the data would be retained in a form in which they would have been readily accessible.” 350 F.3d 640, 641-42 (7th Cir. 2003). We added: “It would be appalling if such an attempt could succeed.” Id. at 642. And it did not succeed.”
Following this decision, all parties filed motions for summary judgment.
For oral arguments and court documents, visit: http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov/fdocs/docs.fwx?caseno=03-2061&submit=showdkt&yr=03&num=2061.PD
Commentary from the attorney blogosphere:
7th Cirtuit Rules that Extraction of Public Domain Data from Copyright Protected Databases is Not a Copyright Infringement (Laura Gellman, Stanford Law School, December 2003): http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/packets001809.shtml
Speaking of Great Court of Appeals Decisions (Laurence Lessig, December 2003)
Fair Use and Misuse (Laurence Lessig, April 2004)
Justly Irascible (Susan Crawford, December 2003)
A Moment of Sanity (Joe Gratz, November 2003)
Judge Posner: Misuse Remedies for Copyright’s Chill (Wendy Seltzer, EPIC, August 2004)
2007 Wisconsin Court of Appeals Decision
The summary judgment of the trial court was reviewed de novo by the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin: WIREdata, Inc v. Village of Sussex and Grota Appraisals (2007 WI APP 22, Appeals No. 2005AP1473, 2006AP174, 2006AP175). The parties each raised several issues for the Court’s review:
“(1) whether both the municipalities and their independent contractor assessors are the responsible statutory authorities under the open records law; (2) whether WIREdata’s requests contained reasonable limitations as to the subject matter and length of time of the sought-after records; (3) whether the municipalities denied WIREdata’s open records requests; (4) whether the municipalities complied with the open records law by providing the PDF to WIREdata; and (5) whether the imposition of costs and attorney’s fees on Michael Grota, Grota Appraisals and Assessment Technologies was appropriate.”
Commentary by the attorney blogsphere:
Municipalities Violated Open Records Law by Providing PDF of Property Assessment Records and Not Allowing Access to Database (K&L Gates, January 2007)
General commentary from real estate industry and the press:
2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court Decision
The Appellate Court decision was affirmed in part, and reversed in part by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin (WIREdata, Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2008 WI 69; 2005AP1473, 2006AP174, and 2006AP175). The court stated:
“We reverse in part and affirm in part the decision of the court of appeals. WIREdata, Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2007 WI App 22, ¶¶2, 3, 67-70, 298 Wis. 2d 743, 729 N.W.2d 757. In order to assist the reader in understanding our determinations, in relation to that decision, we disagree with the court of appeals’ specific holdings as follows: that the three municipalities denied the open records requests of WIREdata and, thus, violated the open records law; that the PDFs were insufficient to comply with such open records requests; that the open records law requires access to the computerized database; that the “enhanced” demands did not require the creation of new records; and that WIREdata is entitled to fees and costs from each of the municipalities. However, we agree with the court of appeals’ specific holdings as follows: that the municipalities are the responsible authorities under the open records law; that such responsibility cannot be shifted to independent contractor assessors; and that the initial written requests of WIREdata were valid and, thus, were not insufficient as to subject matter and length of time.”
Case Digest (Wisconsin Law Journal, June 25, 2008)
“A municipality may not avoid liability under the open records law by contracting with an independent contractor assessor for the collection, maintenance, and custody of its property assessment records and by then directing any requester of those records to the independent contractor assessor who has custody of the sought-after records.”
For links to court documents and oral arguments, visit:
Full text of the opinion can be found at:
Oral arguments can be found at:
AP News Stories, June 25, 2008:
Jim Stevens, Living Lake Country, July 2, 2008: http://www.livinglakecountry.com/story/index.aspx?id=767941
Mike Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online, June 26, 2008: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=766307
Find the amicus briefs starting page 994 of the PDF document file.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Andrew T. Phillips, Kristen D. DeCato, and Stadler, Centofanti & Phillips, S.C., Mequon, on behalf of the Wisconsin Counties Association.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Daniel M. Olson, Madison, on behalf of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Joseph P. Guidote, Jr., Outagamie county corporation counsel, on behalf of the Wisconsin Association of County Corporation Counsel.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by David A. Strifling and Quarles & Brady LLP, Milwaukee; E. King Poor and Quarles & Brady LLP, Chicago, Ill.; and Michael R. Klipper, Christopher A. Mohr, David Ludwig, and Meyer, Klipper & Mohr, PLLC, Washington, D.C., on behalf of First American CoreLogic, Inc., LexisNexis, the Real Estate Information Professionals Association, and the Software and Information Industry Association.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Mary E. Burke, assistant attorney general, with whom on the brief was J.B. Van Hollen, attorney general, on behalf of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Paul W. Schwarzenbart and Lee, Kilkelly, Paulson & Younger, S.C., Madison, on behalf of Wisconsin Land Title Association, Inc.
An amicus curiae brief was filed by Robert J. Dreps, Rebecca Kathryn Mason, and Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., Madison, on behalf of the Wisconsin REALTORS® Association, Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council, Wisconsin Broadcasters Association and Wisconsin Newspaper Association.