Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government Your Rights Online News

WV Assessor Sues to Keep Tax Maps Off the Internet 222

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the define-overly-litigious dept.
An anonymous reader writes "After trying to charge $167,488 for their collection of county tax maps (in TIF format), West Virginia was forced by a judge to hand them over for a $20 'reproduction costs' fee. Now a county tax assessor has filed a lawsuit trying to block the tax maps from being put online, claiming copyright infringement and financial damages since fewer people are coming to her to buy paper copies at $8 per page."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

WV Assessor Sues to Keep Tax Maps Off the Internet

Comments Filter:
  • lawsuits is the third.
  • Public Record? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AndGodSed (968378) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @06:47AM (#22359054) Homepage Journal
    I thought in the US these things were public record? Or am I wrong.
    • Re:Public Record? (Score:4, Informative)

      by barzok (26681) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @06:58AM (#22359088)
      That's exactly what I thought.

      A quick Google search confirmed that many municipalities do consider them public record (whether they are or not); Sacramento, CA's site is very helpful (I picked one at random), but also protects identifying data like parcel ownership.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by fyrewulff (702920)
        Interestingly, Omaha does this aswell:

        http://www.dcassessor.org/ [dcassessor.org]

        However, they do display parcel ownership. In fact, by name is one of the search options..
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by base3 (539820)
          Jackson County, Missouri as well. A stalker's dream, perhaps, but public records are public records, and it's about time they are available to other than lawyers, investigators, and people with the luxury of 9-5 M-F idle time to visit the courthouse. There was an attempt in Missouri pass a law to let "special" (i.e. cops and politicians) people opt-out, which was fortunately defeated. If there is indeed a privacy concern, then perhaps what is public record needs to be redefined for *everyone* rather than le
          • Re:Public Record? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @02:09PM (#22361906)

            There was an attempt in Missouri pass a law to let "special" (i.e. cops and politicians) people opt-out, which was fortunately defeated.
            Interestingly enough, data mining companies do exempt public officials and famous people from their search results. I guess they don't want to get sued when someone stalks them. Of course, all us "little people" can get stalked and attacked by random psychos and they don't give a shit. I imagine exempting public officials also makes it more likely that selling such information to whoever has a few bucks to spare is going to remain legal for the foreseeable future.
        • by SQLGuru (980662)
          Travis count (Austin, TX) as well: http://www.traviscad.org/search1.php [traviscad.org]

          For example, one of the factories is valued at just under $185M: http://www.traviscad.org/travisdetail.php?theKey=535002 [traviscad.org]

          Layne
          • ...the local municipality has no say in what they consider public records or not. The State dictates this to the city, county and appraisal district governing bodies. And yup, the appraisal tax maps are public records.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by pla (258480)
        but also protects identifying data like parcel ownership.

        Umm, that counts as a matter of public record as well. You can go to any county office in the country and, theoretically, pull the deeds for every parcel in that county (though in many places, they consider that their little fiefdom and make it as hard as possible, without paying the outrageous fees mention in TFA, for a cheap photocopy).

        They shouldn't "protect" that information, they should just make it a removeable overlay (since most uses pro
        • Re:Public Record? (Score:5, Informative)

          by penix1 (722987) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @11:47AM (#22360748) Homepage
          Disclaimer: I live in WV and more importantly, in Kanawha County where this is happening. More, I do GIS for a living so I'm biased to the max in this...

          All the tax assessors in WV have been doing a very poor job at property assessments and for years have buried it in poor paper maps. I have been to municipalities that haven't updated their tax maps in decades. I've also seen the quality of these maps and believe me, until recently they were very sketchy at best. We have had the difference between tax ticket method of determining Fair Market Value with a multiplier of 4.0 and appraised value of over double. In a properly assessed county by contrast, a 1.67 multiplier yields the appraised value. What that means is that Kanawha County is losing out on a huge amount of taxes all because the assessor's office is corrupt as all get out. This causes politicians to panic as they see dwindling taxes and before you know it those that are paying a fair share are having their property taxes increased all because the assessor isn't doing their jobs properly.

          More broadly, municipalities have relied on the fees charged for paper copies of public documents so much that they feel threatened by electronic distribution. In this case it is the assessor's office but I have seen this in other areas such as deeds, birth / death certification, building permits, etc. They are seeing it as a revenue stream instead of something the public already paid for. This thinking needs to be defeated as well as those that oppose full and free disclosure.

          I agree with you that all the information in a tax assessment of real property should be public record if for no other reason than the fact that the public has already paid for that information.
      • Re:Public Record? (Score:4, Informative)

        by frankie (91710) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @11:34AM (#22360598) Journal
        In Southern Building Code vs Veeck [google.com]:

        The Fifth Circuit further observed that laws are not subject to federal copyright law, and "public ownership of the law means that 'the law' is in the 'public domain' for whatever use the citizens choose to make of it."
      • by HungWeiLo (250320)
        In Clark County, Nevada (county that Las Vegas resides in), you can search properties based on the owner's name.

        http://www.co.clark.nv.us/ASSESSOR/Disclaim.htm [clark.nv.us]
    • by cfulmer (3166)
      Well, they may be. But, there's no law that says that public records can't be copyrighted. US Government works can't be, but this is West Virginia.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by snarfies (115214)
      "Public record" does not mean "free."

      I used to be an auto insurance adjuster with a three-state territory (MD, DC, and VA) (yeah, I'm counting DC - that's where the majority of my cases were). As such, I had to obtain police reports, often. Police reports, at least with regards to auto accidents, are public record. If you just happen to drive past an accident, and note when and where it was, you can request a police report if you like.

      NONE of the municipalities I dealt with had any online availability.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Tacvek (948259)

        "Public record" does not mean "free."

        I used to be an auto insurance adjuster with a three-state territory (MD, DC, and VA) (yeah, I'm counting DC - that's where the majority of my cases were). As such, I had to obtain police reports, often. Police reports, at least with regards to auto accidents, are public record. If you just happen to drive past an accident, and note when and where it was, you can request a police report if you like.

        NONE of the municipalities I dealt with had any online availability. I had to physically mail them a request, and almost ALL police jurisdictions charged for copies of the accident reports. In DC, it was $3. In Prince George County, MD, it was $5. I know there was one municipality in VA that charged $15 for the report (I THINK it was Orange, VA, but I could be wrong).

        Fair enough. However, it should be possible to see the records for free if you are willing to be in the same place as the record. A $3-$5 fee for a police report seems about right (which is to say just a tiny bit overpriced) when you consider the copying costs, mailing costs, and the costs of the associated labor. (Paying the officer to find the record, copy it, replace it, fill out the envelope, place the copy inside, apply postage, and place in the mailbox.) I mean sure it sucks, but they still need to r

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Zymergy (803632) *
      They *are* indeed Public Records. You have every right to go see them. (Many Counties have you file an affidavit of identity and/or purpose to protect them from stalkers and identity thieves, etc...)
      Just go down to your local County Assessor's Office and/or County Clerk's Office and/or Court Clerk's Office and you may well be surprised what are in public records. (Of course, the hours of operation are M-F 8-5 typically) I have to tell you, it beats Googleing someone (if you know what county they live in a
  • by Nemilar (173603) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @06:59AM (#22359096) Homepage
    It seems to me that she wouldn't be complaining if the $8 she charged for paper copies was only to cover distribution and reproduction costs. The fact that she tried to charge $8 per map for a digital copy makes it obvious that she's trying to turn an extra buck on what is, quite obviously, information that should be public and available for anyone interested.

    Like the article says, taxation should be a transparent process. This isn't in any way similar to the argument over physical music costs vs. digital downloads; this is something where profits shouldn't be involved at all. And if they truly weren't, she would have no problem publishing them on the internet for free (or only a nominal cost to cover bandwidth and hosting, which really should be included in taxes since it's a public service available for all; 0.0025$ per resident per year should be more than enough to cover it).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:37AM (#22359208)
      You've seen it, I've seen it - we all have: local-government's small fish. The things some of these people rationalize in their small ponds - especially when prompted emotion or greed - are just mind-boggling when viewed *from outside the situation*. This lady is a throwback that, sorry, needs to be thrown back into the general population and be replaced =/
    • by sumdumass (711423) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:51AM (#22359260) Journal
      I think the problem is that the information is always availible at the records office or engineering department. You could still come in and view them for free and get a hard copy for probably the $8.

      When digital came about, they probably started loosing money (revenue income) and carried the copy fee over to all copies. A lot of county engineering departments across the country use a portion of the copying costs to supplement their budgets. This is probable why she is fighting the putting them on line. IT would mean even less people pay for the services.

      However right or wrong that might be when it is public information or record is up to whoever is judging it. I know a lot of government offices started charging fees to get around lack of tax revenues and budget problems. In my home town, it went from $125 for an engineering and zoning approval to open a business to almost $500. SO it is obvious that governments are attempting to cover more then actual costs if you ask me. It seems to piss off less people then raising taxes so they will get away with it unless someone sues like with WV.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by xSauronx (608805)
        Reminds me of criminal records in North Carolina. Want a statewide record search for yourself to take to an employer (some require proof of a clean record)? $15 for a copy that takes 10 seconds to pull up. Want a handgun permit? $3 for the processing, wherein the county sheriff department run a criminal record check and are required by law to contact at least 2 references before approving the permit.
    • Or .... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skapare (16644)

      Or she still has that monster size paper copy machine that still needs to be paid off (they are not cheap in the versions needed to handle the large maps involved).

      I agree, in this day and age, we should have such maps for no more than the cost of digital reproduction when we get them in digital form. And we should be able to. But just keep in mind why these tax assessors, and other government office officials in other circumstances like this, might be trying to collect the same money for digital data as

  • It takes one kind of person to abuse their position as a public official to turn a quick buck (we call these people politicians). But then, once your scam doesn't work anymore, you sue - and not even under some pretense of fairness with a hidden (yet, most likely obvious) motive - but blatantly sue for financial loss? That's corruption at its worst.
  • by $random_var (919061) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:07AM (#22359124)
    29B-1-3. Inspection and copying.
    (1) Every person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by section four of this article. ..
    (3) The custodian of any public records, unless otherwise expressly provided by statute, shall furnish proper and reasonable opportunities for inspection and examination of the records in his or her office and reasonable facilities for making memoranda or abstracts therefrom, during the usual business hours, to all persons having occasion to make examination of them. The custodian of the records may make reasonable rules and regulations necessary for the protection of the records and to prevent interference with the regular discharge of his or her duties. If the records requested exist in magnetic, electronic or computer form, the custodian of the records shall make such copies available on magnetic or electronic media, if so requested.

    http://www.legis.state.wv.us/WVCODE/29B/masterfrmFrm.htm [state.wv.us]

    I don't believe the assessor can reasonably claim financial damage... generally copying fees are limited to nominal processing costs, or a close approximation thereof, and only in a few cases around the country have I ever heard of a government treating copying fees as a profit center... and those were only for specialized documents such as police reports being furnished to an insurance company.

    This is such a backwards way of thinking. I work for a software company that is involved in document management, and everywhere we look, cities, counties, and states are looking to pass the savings on to their citizens, not trying to nickel and dime their way into mediocrity. The tax assessor's office's budget can always be fixed if they truly are relying on those $20 fees. Even those organizations that do make some money off supplying documents are constantly trying to improve access and let people access documents online and so on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mangu (126918)

      only in a few cases around the country have I ever heard of a government treating copying fees as a profit center... and those were only for specialized documents such as police reports being furnished to an insurance company

      I don't see why this case should be treated differently. Why are they charging insurance companies? If the records are public, they are public, no matter who's getting them.

    • by arivanov (12034) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:17AM (#22359348) Homepage
      and only in a few cases around the country have I ever heard of a government treating copying fees as a profit center...

      This means the USA has a lot to learn from the UK. It is an ongoing profitable business over here. DVLA records, electoral register, land registry data, ordnance survey data, you name it. Everything is for sale and everything is for a profit. Privacy? Yeah, we heard about it. A person with a criminal record till last year could obtain anyone's details (provided that they own a vehicle) for mere 5 quid. Checks? What checks. Provided that the buyer pays the price checks should not get into the way of government officials conducting business ya know.

    • by Skapare (16644) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:31AM (#22359404) Homepage

      Normally, the copying should not be a profit operation. However, this copying is a big part of what such an office does. That requires some equipment investment. And these are not small 8.5x11 sheets that typical copying equipment can serve. I've been to one of these offices in a West Virginia county, before, and these are on the order of 3x2 feet in size for the original paper copy. To some extent, the concern may be to protect that investment in reproduction equipment that could go underutilized if the maps go online.

      But the world is changing. I should be able to click on "tax map" on my GPS equipped phone and have it automatically pull up the map of where I am standing, and overlay that with a satellite/aerial photo view, with names and addresses from the phone book, etc. I should not have to make a trip down to the county tax assessor just so they can pay off an antiquated copy machine due to their inability to assess the pace of technology development.

      These maps are not accurate in terms of exact positioning. The assessment information is official, but the land shape and position is merely for identification purposes, only. Ironically, however, this very technology could also help make such maps much more accurate. Integrated with standardized survey data and low level aerial photos, and the assessments can be much more accurate in terms of things like valuation.

      • That requires some equipment investment. And these are not small 8.5x11 sheets that typical copying equipment can serve. I've been to one of these offices in a West Virginia county, before, and these are on the order of 3x2 feet in size for the original paper copy. To some extent, the concern may be to protect that investment in reproduction equipment that could go underutilized if the maps go online.

        Perhaps some offices make available the larger maps, but I've gotten copies of tax maps from several WV counties and they don't give me a large copy nor do they even use the original large maps any longer. They provide an 8.5x11 or 8.5x14 printout from their digital source, just like I can get from Seneca's online site.

        But the world is changing. I should be able to click on "tax map" on my GPS equipped phone and have it automatically pull up the map of where I am standing, and overlay that with a satellite/aerial photo view, with names and addresses from the phone book, etc. I should not have to make a trip down to the county tax assessor just so they can pay off an antiquated copy machine due to their inability to assess the pace of technology development.

        These maps are not accurate in terms of exact positioning. The assessment information is official, but the land shape and position is merely for identification purposes, only. Ironically, however, this very technology could also help make such maps much more accurate. Integrated with standardized survey data and low level aerial photos, and the assessments can be much more accurate in terms of things like valuation.

        And now you've hit on why the county is fighting this move. Some county maps are so in accurate that they are almost useless while other counties have taken the time to create nice maps.

        • by Ironsides (739422)
          Most importantly, and most frightening to the local powerbrokers, this will allow everyone to see how the local assessment process is used to grant millions of dollars to the owners of huge swaths of timber and mineral rights, who often are significantly and intentionally undertaxed for decades.

          You got a link to back this up? Or should I just file it under baseless accusation?
          • You got a link to back this up? Or should I just file it under baseless accusation?

            I haven't bothered to Google it, if that's what you mean. Feel free to do so yourself.

            To those who grew up in these fiefdoms, a link to a Wikipedia article isn't necessary. I'm sure you can find articles about Lincoln County's Assessor of 25 years recently going to federal prison for his involvement in the long-standing county-wide voting buying programs. This corruption was well-known to locals for decades but you wouldn't have found an online news report about it before last year. A coal company al

      • To some extent, the concern may be to protect that investment in reproduction equipment that could go underutilized if the maps go online.

        But if they can be digitally redistributed for free (as they are here - someone else is even picking up the bandwidth tab), then that equipment can be reassigned where it's really needed or sold. They don't get to justify maintaining expensive equipment forever simply because it's expensive.

        • by sumdumass (711423)
          They wont get rid of the plotters because there is a need for it regardless of where you get your maps. Land owners typically need entire plats drawn out so they can file for zoning and whatever as well as contest assessments and other people's planned improvements.

          The country/city engineers department (road/street department) typically needs to get copies, make alterations, refile, and so on. The landowners, after they (either themselves or by paying someone else) make changes, will want copies when turnin
      • The city I live in provides all that for free (minus the GPS connectivity). They have their GIS online and you can select any plot of land to see data on it. What it's assessed value is, when was it last sold and for how much, whether the owner has paid their taxes or water bill, it's all there where it should be.
      • The level of accuracy varies wildly, dependent upon who's drawing the maps and when they were drawn. I took one of the aforementioned Kanawha County, WV, maps to do some actual research (not just for fun, but possibly for legal purposes, so I'm really glad this company put them online) and overlaid it on top of a Google map of the area (okay, this part was for fun, since I know the maps aren't meant to be used in this regard). I got all four corners to line up pretty well with the underlying terrain, and
    • Furthermore, mere collections of facts as such are not copyrightable. If you make a list of facts, you can get copyright on the form of the list (usually, there's a test that basically boils down to "did you expend actual effort creating this list").

      You cannot copyright 2+2=4, you cannot copyright mathematical formulae (but you can copyright the book in which they appear), and most definitely a map showing which area has what taxes is not protectable by copyright.
  • by z-j-y (1056250) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:14AM (#22359138)
    put contextual ads on those maps.
  • by 4D6963 (933028) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @07:52AM (#22359262)

    Just wondering, am I the only one stupid enough to think it had to be about Volkswagen upon reading the title? I'm worried.. :-/

  • I am tired of this government that the U.S. continues to perpetuate. If these dipshits are unwilling to satisfy public will, they ought to be stripped of all responsibilities and held up in the public eye as examples of FAILED public service.

    The public is what gives them power, and if they seek not to comply reasonably, they ought to be stripped of that power one magnitude greater than their infraction, to remind them who is putting them in charge.

    This is not a business or a company. These people are there
    • by stomv (80392) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:27AM (#22359392) Homepage
      "The government" is not represented by a single assessor in West Virginia. Perhaps you noticed that the judge [also a member of "the government"] required that they be handed over for a very small fee.

      Why not free? I'll tell you why: if I were pissed off at a department in my town, I could just stroll in and request everything. Flood them with requests for information. It takes time to gather all of that information and fill the requests, and that takes away from the other duties those employees must attend. Placing a nominal fee serves to significantly reduce the action of those who seek simply to waste time, but doesn't serve as a substantial burden to those who want the information for productive purposes.

      Finally, given that this is being settled in the judicial system, your call for angry mobs is more than a bit premature.
      • if I were pissed off at a department in my town, I could just stroll in and request everything. Flood them with requests for information

        I'd just throw it on a computer and tell you to knock yourself out.

    • by Skapare (16644) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:46AM (#22359478) Homepage

      I'll let you figure out how to do this, in the role of a county tax assessor.

      Before automatic reproduction equipment came along, you could not even have a copy of the map unless you paid a map maker to hand create a copy. That would be half a day effort for just one sectional map. The cost: half a day's wages. Want the entire county? Several weeks wages.

      Along comes photo copy machinery. But this isn't cheap because the maps are huge. Even in 2008 this means investing a huge sum of money for the specialized (and hence, no economy of scale which means very expensive) equipment needed to make the copies.

      Now you are a tax assessor. You don't have the budget to just buy the equipment. So your office has to take out a loan to buy it, to be paid back through the sale of copies. This is in no way a profit operation, as all the money collected for copies goes to pay off the loan. Now consider that along comes the internet and suddenly no one wants your paper copies anymore. But you're stuck with a big piece of equipment no one else has any use for, and a loan that still needs to be paid off.

      I'm sure part of that money, especially after the loan is paid off, ends up supplementing the office operation itself. But that's actually typical for a great many government operations, where the routine servicing needs of a very small segment of the population has to be paid for by those that use it. A tax assessor general operation probably should not qualify for this since the general operation affects all property owners and potential buyers and a few lawyers with property cases ongoing. But it is not that far out of line, as $8 for a copy of a large sheet at 3 feet by 2 feet and larger is close to the real cost considering things like the special equipment and handling needed.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ultima (3696)
      Wait, are you implying that people who work for the government might be self-serving parasites?

      By making this information available for free, those people who made a living by reproducing it are being put out of a job. And government jobs often attract the kind of people who would are just not adaptable enough to find a new job. So of course they are going to fight this -- because accepting it means they would have to change, and change is hard.
  • by harvey the nerd (582806) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:03AM (#22359292)
    Given the funky West virginia law, I would keep my server and business centers out of WV and ignore everything else. As for the quality of the WV tax assessor's argument, it reminds me of this little incorporated town that consisted of 4 miles of empty interstate only, a speed trap, and a post office box in another town... don't bother to pay, the state ignores them, too.
  • and as accurate as those available directly from the WV Assessor, then the Assessor should take no interest. She can solve that easily by putting the map publication dates on the web.
  • paaardon? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by superwiz (655733) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:36AM (#22359434) Journal
    Governments can claim copyright? How? There are so many argument against it, I am not even sure where to start.
  • WV genetics (Score:4, Funny)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:42AM (#22359458) Homepage

    Now a county tax assessor has filed a lawsuit trying to block the tax maps from being put online, claiming copyright infringement and financial damages

    She just wasn't thinking big enough. She should have tried to claim copyright on the whole globe. Just think how much money should make on those royalties. That's more money than a fellar could make collecting aluminum cans his whole life.

    And that, kids, is why cousins shouldn't get married.

    • I knew the trolls would come out eventually. I'd just like you to know that another West Virginia county was thinking about this stuff early enough to pick up assessor.org [assessor.org].
  • by KayElle (914547) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:43AM (#22359466)
    I'm the IT critter for a town in Mass and I manage the online stuff, including mapping. It's possible that the sales of copies are built into the decision about whether or not to update maps, do additional flyovers, and that sort of thing. I don't know about taxes in WV, but here in Mass local government is very very lean, and I can easily see someone in a similar fiscal dilemma deciding that the best way to pay for more frequent updating of mapping (which with flyovers and such is fairly pricey for a small town or county) is by generating revenue from the maps. Particularly as most of the users of mapping are businesses--this doesn't apply quite as much to tax maps, but our GIS layers are pretty expensive to produce and when 90% of your requests for GIS maps are from business who would otherwise need to do the survey work themselves, it's a fine line between public access and corporate welfare.

    Also, having possibly out of date maps available in a central archive does kind of worry me. I'd rather have people getting them from us directly. Citizens have a habit of getting the wrong end of a stick on something and storming into town hall irate out of their minds over problems that don't really exist. I've had irate people in my office banging on the counter and screaming waving printouts of some web site somewhere they found that they thought was our official one. Part of managing a municipal website is trying to figure out ways in which information can be presented where citizens will not be confused and assume the worst and where it will be kept accurate and fresh.

    Having said that, I agree with most of the people here. These are public records. All our GIS layers are on our website in addition to the ones that are on MassGIS, which includes a viewer. We're adding PDF'd tax maps as of our next update. Our property record cards are available online. I think and our town thinks these are records that should made as widely available as possible. But IMHO that's not the only legitimate way to look at things.
    • by DAldredge (2353)
      How much would you charge for a complete digital copy of your maps? How much per page?
    • by Taco Cowboy (5327)


      Of the things you said, the following catches my eyes:

      "...but here in Mass local government is very very lean, ..."

      Not that I want don't trust you, but when someone starts telling me a government, be it local, state, federal, or for the entire universe, be "very very lean" .... heh !

    • by garcia (6573)
      Particularly as most of the users of mapping are businesses--this doesn't apply quite as much to tax maps, but our GIS layers are pretty expensive to produce and when 90% of your requests for GIS maps are from business who would otherwise need to do the survey work themselves, it's a fine line between public access and corporate welfare.

      As long as the taxpayers can get it for free, I don't see how anyone can be concerned with it costing too much money to produce. I use a lot of the state's GIS data (park b
    • by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Saturday February 09, 2008 @10:56AM (#22360284) Homepage Journal

      It's possible that the sales of copies are built into the decision about whether or not to update maps, do additional flyovers, and that sort of thing.

      I'm asking because I'm ignorant of the workings of such agencies, but why would the gov't ever need to pay to have their maps updated? Do you have rogue developers laying out new subdivisions without telling you? It seems like part of the permit to build a road could include the cost of maintaining the official maps.

    • If it is businesses that are the prime users of your maps, then the taxes that support your operation should be assessed against businesses instead of citizens. If you need to do more flyovers to improve your products, raise the taxes against businesses. If they convince politicians that the taxes are excessive, don't do the flyovers. Every business gets a variety of taxes assessed against them, some benefit them, some don't. Overall the goal is an equitable distibution that supports everyone. This is
    • by metamatic (202216)

      Also, having possibly out of date maps available in a central archive does kind of worry me. I'd rather have people getting them from us directly.

      In which case, your only option is to make the data available via the web, for free or for a very small fee.

      As soon as you try to make money reproducing something which is public (and which anyone else has the right to reproduce), someone else will step in and compete with you.
    • I'm the IT critter for a town in Mass and I manage the online stuff, including mapping. It's possible that the sales of copies are built into the decision about whether or not to update maps, do additional flyovers, and that sort of thing

      Whoa - this is about Tax Maps - Auditor's schematic record of parcel ownership - the visual index if you will. Aerial mapping is (in the states I have worked in as a surveyor) not a primary mission of the Auditor's office.

      ...when 90% of your requests for GIS maps are from

    • by kikta (200092) *

      Particularly as most of the users of mapping are businesses--this doesn't apply quite as much to tax maps, but our GIS layers are pretty expensive to produce and when 90% of your requests for GIS maps are from business who would otherwise need to do the survey work themselves, it's a fine line between public access and corporate welfare.

      What's the problem? They pay taxes just like you and me - no, wait, they pay even higher rates. Should companies not get similar services to idividuals for their tax dollars as well?

  • firehisass (Score:3, Funny)

    by pangu (322010) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @08:45AM (#22359474) Homepage
    Don't you mean fireherass? Oh wait, this is Slashdot, you didn't rtfa.
  • by omnirealm (244599) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @09:14AM (#22359616) Homepage
    As has been pointed out many times before on Slashdot, copyright can only protect creative expressions, not ideas. To the extent that a copyright of a particular expression would be tantamount to copyrighting the idea, then one cannot legitimately claim copyright over the expression. If the expression is primarily functional in nature and if the only reasonable alternative representations of the idea are preposterous trivial modifications (e.g., change the colors of the map, make the lines dotted rather than solid, etc.), then that is a strong indication that the expression is substantially equivalent to the idea itself and is not candidate for copyright protection under U.S. law.

    (Disclaimer: IANAL, but I did take a graduate law course on IP about a year ago. This post is not intended to be legal advice. Consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction for legal advice before you take any actions based on the conjectures contained in this post. Have a nice day.)
    • by Yartrebo (690383)
      My understanding is that the creativity bar is so low that essentially everything passes it. I've seen nautical charts copied verbatim from the US government and with no aesthetic changes with a copyright mark on it. Databases are also routinely copyrighted.

      The creativity part is best ignored. It's so restricted as to be essentially non-existant.

      PS: IANAL, so do take this with a grain of salt.

  • Should these records be distributed so that marketers and others can see how mauch money we make etc.? What if it were used by terrorists to target rich people(ok this last bit is a bit extreme)?

    But still is there a privacy issue lurking in the wings?
    • by Twanfox (185252)
      I'm going out on a limb here, since I have not ever looked at tax maps, nor did I RTFA. However, contextually speaking, the maps in question would appear to contain information concerning property taxes and not the income of individual families living on that property. While one could infer some correlation between property tax and family income, it isn't as if these maps contain the information you seem to think it does.

      Besides, I don't care. If these are documents produced by the government, whatever info
  • by syntap (242090) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @09:53AM (#22359816)
    I wonder if WV will get back at those who pay $2000 fines in pennies by giving this guy the "collection of county tax maps (in TIF format)" in little 3.5" floppy chunks?
  • by Black-Man (198831) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @10:20AM (#22359964)
    I can say for a state run by a bunch of Democrats the politicians tow a fine line between alienating a population whose "property rights" is right up there w/ "gun rights". A few years back my property taxes in greenbrier county went up 2-fold and there was near anarchy. These accessors want to keep these records private and away from the land owners for a reason. They are deathly afraid of what property owners will see of inconsistent patterns of taxation - and breaks they give large land holders such as timber interests. Yeah.... this from a bunch of democrats.
  • by Insightfill (554828) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @10:40AM (#22360132) Homepage
    Reminds me of this one from 2001: Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Congress [slashdot.org] Texas town has the writing of the building code outsourced. Local guy obtains a copy and posts on the Internet, only to get sued for copyright infringement.
    • by TubeSteak (669689)
      Short version: local guy wins.
      http://www.ansi.org/news_publications/news_story.aspx?menuid=7&articleid=446 [ansi.org]

      Longer version: Local guy loses, loses again, appeals to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and wins.

      "It is also possible that ANSI and others may seek a legislative solution to clarify that a government entity at any level cannot in effect turn a privately copyrighted work into a public good solely by referencing it into law."

      Good luck with that. What the government giveth, the government
  • by rbrander (73222) on Saturday February 09, 2008 @11:11AM (#22360402) Homepage
    ...but it's to benefit the PUBLIC, not their servants.

    When it was all paper, Calgary used to let you come look at your own street map (dollar figure on every house lot superimposed) for free. That, to most people's mind, satisfied the requirement that you have transparency about your own assessment and those most directly comparable to it.

    If you wanted a whole neighbourhood map, though, that was some hundreds of dollars; and it scaled up to tens of thousands for 10 lbs. of paper that gave you the hundreds of thousands of homes for the whole city.

    The argument was that this amount of data was of very little interest to the private citizen - and a valuable professional tool for any real-estate company. So since the public data cost the public a lot of money to gather, due diligence in exploiting that property of the municipality required extraction of a market price from those businessmen, we charged what that traffic would bear. No different than letting a community group use a city building for free to have a meeting about re-zoning, but charging 1,000 salesmen market price to use it for a business conference.

    Alas, nobody could deny that putting it all on the Internet was a public service. I think the "business" of selling large amounts of it has also fallen off because the real-estate agents just use the web site heavily, looking up one street at a time around houses they are selling or thinking of buying. Again, the "greater good" ruled...it was nice to have a revenue stream of four bits or a buck per citizen selling a $20K sheaf of paper to a dozen-odd real estate companies every year, but allowing the resource on the Net so people didn't have to come down to City Hall to make an inquiry was overall a greater public good. If somebody suffered from the change, well, that happens with changes, even overall-good ones.

    I rather doubt the assessor lady is the personal owner of the copyright - the copyright holder has decided to do something else with their property. It's not copyright violation, it's use of copyright to maximize public good. Sorry.
  • by davidwr (791652)
    If the tax maps themselves are "official documents" and have the force of law, then they are in the public domain.

    If they are merely "for your convenience" renderings of legal descriptions of tax boundaries, e.g. "The boundary of Fire Tax District 1 runs from Point A to Point B" then she may be able to claim copyright. Any other mapmaker is free to go back to the same legal descriptions and create their own maps.

    A few years ago the Supreme Court said that if a city "incorporated by reference" a "book of st
  • Most states require that a claim of material harm be inherently anti-competitive, and many states require that a material harm claim be built around some claim of malice. You can't just claim material harm because the other guy's idea makes your idea look sucky.

    Also, aren't tax maps a matter of public record? I've seen something of the like in the Arcfile data from the Census.

  • Is access to property records being used here as a method for revenue generation? IANAL, but this might run afoul of some legal requirements to make such records available to the public.

That does not compute.

Working...