Court Says Court Reporters Do Not Retain Copyright On Transcripts They Prepare
from the nitty-gritty dept
In a world where almost every new expression is automatically covered by copyright once set in fixed form, you get some really odd situations — highlighted by a recent ruling pointed out by Michael Scott. Apparently, in a lawsuit between bunch of plaintiffs and the city of Albuquerque, the city paid for a court reporter to record transcripts of some hearings. An attorney for the plaintiffs who wanted to use the transcripts did the smart thing and used New Mexico’s Inspection of Public Records Act to gain access to the transcripts.
The problem? The city and the court reporter who recorded the transcripts would have charged a much higher fee for a copy of the transcripts, and felt that the lawyer’s use of the law to gain access was somehow unfair. The court then ordered the lawyer to pay the court reporter over $4,000 to make up the “difference.” The lawyer, however, appealed, and the appeals court has thrown out the lower court ruling, saying that forcing the lawyer to pay the higher fee would mean that the court reporter effectively was given a copyright to the transcripts:
In broad terms, [the court reporter’s] fee claim rests on the tacit premise that court reporters in some legal sense own the content of the transcripts they prepare, such that they are entitled to remuneration whenever a copy of a transcript is made (even if they played no role in making the copy). To accept this premise would effectively give court reporters a “copyright” in a mere transcription of others’ statements, contrary to black letter copyright law. See 2 William F. Patry, Patry on Copyright, Ch. 4 Noncopyrightable Material, ? 4.88 (Updated Sept. 2008) (court reporters are not “authors of what they transcribe and therefore cannot be copyright owners of the transcript of court proceedings”).