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WV Assessor Sues to Keep Tax Maps Off the Internet

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the define-overly-litigious dept.

Government 222

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."

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222 comments

OK, it's three things that are certain in life... (2, Insightful)

1gor (314505) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359048)

lawsuits is the third.

Re:OK, it's three things that are certain in life. (5, Funny)

robably (1044462) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359418)

Death, taxes, and lawsuits. So long as they come in that order, I don't mind.

Re:OK, it's three things that are certain in life. (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359490)

unfortunately what you really get is

lawsuits, taxes, and then death.

Dating your sister/cousin in WV (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359942)

And making babies with your cousin or sister in WV.

Public Record? (5, Insightful)

AndGodSed (968378) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359054)

I thought in the US these things were public record? Or am I wrong.

Re:Public Record? (3, Informative)

barzok (26681) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Public Record? (2, Informative)

fyrewulff (702920) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359184)

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:Public Record? (3, Interesting)

base3 (539820) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359626)

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 letting the powerful opt out (and it's not as if they can't hide their ownership through shell corporations and nominees, anyway).

Re:Public Record? (1)

senor mouse (1227452) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360172)

Missouri, you say? Hmmm. Seems a frustrated citizen very recently mowed down the mayor and city council of a town in that state. Politicians beware.

Re:Public Record? (2, Informative)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359634)

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 probably don't care).

Re:Public Record? (5, Informative)

penix1 (722987) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360748)

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? (3, Informative)

frankie (91710) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360598)

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."

Re:Public Record? (1)

HungWeiLo (250320) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360614)

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]

Re:Public Record? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359564)

They absolutely are. Anyone who works in your local Register of Deeds/Registrar/Clerk of Courts (depending on the state) will tell you that these and other documents like deeds, deeds of trust, or powers of attorney are the property of the public as spelled out by General Statutes.

Hell, you can't even get documents with your SSN removed from the online archive -- and I do not mean vital records like a birth certificate, which are rarely (if ever) available to the general public online. If you had a mortgage recorded before identity theft gained national awareness, it's probable that your attorney or bank had your SSN on the documents you signed that were then put into the public record. The reason? No malice, really -- it was just common industry practice. Now, this does not really exist, and some states have even passed legislation making it illegal. Some registrars are doing redaction of social security numbers on electronic versions of these documents, but there are several issues with this: 1) it is *only* the electronic version and although that is generally adequate all documents are also microfilmed and stored (most registrars did away with printing books years ago) forever -- those records will never get changed; 2) it is generally the large counties doing this because it is an expensive process.

So, if you can't get a social security number removed from public record, forget about some titlesearcher, surveyor, or tax assessor keeping *entire* documents already committed to public record for their own profit. It belongs to the public now -- it is not your intellectual property.

Disclaimer: I work for a large county Register of Deeds office.

Re:Public Record? (1)

cfulmer (3166) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359732)

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:Public Record? (2, Interesting)

snarfies (115214) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360396)

"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).

There shouldn't be any profit involved (5, Insightful)

Nemilar (173603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359096)

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).

Small fish in even smaller ponds - local gov ftl (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#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 =/

The lady is a hero. (-1, Flamebait)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359446)

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 =/

Look, the corporation has the money. They should pay it. We are already paying higher income taxes every year so corporations can have lower taxes. Christ, don't you want some of this money back? Do you seriously think this company making demographic spyware will benefit the people of West Virginia at all? No, if anything, this software is going to enable them to be exploited even more.

How many corporate promises of a better life for states have been made, if only the government would just fork over everything for free. You know what the answer is? None!

West Virginia is absolutely right to fight this. They are heros in my book.

Re:The lady is a hero. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359628)

The 8 dollars per copy goes to the tax assessor not the county or the state.

She is filing suit be she wants the money...

So you consider a public official selling public records for a profit a hero?

Lets let all public officials in on this plan, I wonder what the president has for sale...

Re:The lady is a hero. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359938)

Lets let all public officials in on this plan, I wonder what the president has for sale...
If we wind up with Clintons again, here's a start:

Pardons
Overnight stays in the Lincoln bedroom
Private FBI files
Jobs in the White House travel office

Dang, it'd be easier to list what isn't for sale:

White House silverware - Hillary wants to take some more when she leaves. The Clintons are a few place setting short. :-P

Re:The lady is a hero. (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360302)

Look, the corporation has the money. They should pay it.

Using that logic, government should pay since they have the most money.

Re:Small fish in even smaller ponds - local gov ft (1)

celle (906675) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360784)

I wonder if shes committing a crime, something along the line of fraud. That's since its by law public information and supposed to be available for free since the taxpayers have already paid for it.

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (1)

aspx (808539) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359250)

I paid for the information when I paid my taxes. If they charge me a quarter dollar to copy a page, they make profit.

Are these people aware of my $50 government bullshit fee?

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (1, Interesting)

Albanach (527650) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359380)

The fact they want to charge suggests you probably didn't pay for this information when you paid your taxes. They're trying to recoup costs through the charge.

Local government doesn't exactly run at a profit. If they are forced to stop charging by law, or find they have no sales due to the data being freely available on the internet you'll find that lost income has to be recouped - then you'll be paying for it through your taxes.

Please note, I'm not suggesting the data shouldn't be free on the internet, just pointing out that in the past they probably helped cover the cost through paper sales and if/when that changes the money will have to come from somewhere else.

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (3, Insightful)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359260)

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:There shouldn't be any profit involved (2, Informative)

xSauronx (608805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359914)

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.

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (2, Funny)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360248)

So it would be better to get a handgun permit and take that to the employer?

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (1)

calebt3 (1098475) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360650)

Better is a matter of opinion (especially your opinion of the near future). Certainly cheaper, though.

Or .... (2, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359520)

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 for paper data ... they are stuck with continuing to pay off the loan for that equipment.

I hope the court rules against her since we need to move forward instead of being stuck in the past. But these government offices do have (incorrectly anticipated) future costs to resolve (how to pay off a giant photo copy machine when no one wants or can even use paper anymore).

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (1)

code0 (122493) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359820)

FWIW, I work for IT in a small county...

Our assessor publishes this information online. You can get maps, ownership information, and tax information (except for a few properties). We just don't publish this in a machine readable format. If someone wants a dump of all the data, we point them to the website. While the information is public, there is no requirement for the government to provide it in whatever format a user wants.

Re:There shouldn't be any profit involved (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22360038)

Oddly enough, there are cases (in the U.S.) where private companies have sued to prevent the government from providing data (e.g. aviation and marine charts, topographic maps, satellite imagery) for free (or for small fees). The theory behind this is that the government is not supposed to be competing with private industry (because the gov't is subsidized by taxes).

Where's the same? (1)

Nemilar (173603) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359108)

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.

Re:Where's the same? (2, Funny)

likes2comment (1021703) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360014)

She needs to go back to making babies with her cousin in WV.

Freedom of Information (5, Informative)

$random_var (919061) | more than 6 years ago | (#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:Freedom of Information (2, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359168)

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.

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

$random_var (919061) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359236)

Hm, well you're right in principle but it's hard to apply those principles sometimes! I think the idea is that the insurance company is turning a profit, and they rely on these police reports, which are expensive to produce and really only apply to one-ish citizen and this for-profit company. When you have a gap in the budget it's easy to get people to agree to fill it with a source like this. Everybody loves to hate an insurance company. Plus, this could also be "congestion pricing" in a manner of speaking... it means that the insurance companies will not use up valuable city resources unless the actual value to the insurance company is more than the cost of the report.

Re:Freedom of Information (4, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359640)

Everybody loves to hate an insurance company

Raise their costs and they will pass it to the customer, plus tax and profits. Lower their costs and more companies will enter the market, with better services and lower prices.

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

whatme (997566) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360192)

Public in this case is interpreted as public the a person. A company is NOT a person. The CEO could walk in and request the information and they will give it to him/her...one at a time. What happens is companies request the entire database. So there is a fee involved. I don't have a problem with that as it falls outside of what an individual would normally request.

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360588)

A company IS a person. That's the whole purpose of a corporation. "A corporation is a legal entity (technically, a juristic person) which has a separate legal personality from its members." That's the whole point of a corporation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_personhood_debate [wikipedia.org]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporation [wikipedia.org]

Also the movie "The Corporation."

Re:Freedom of Information (3, Insightful)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359348)

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.

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

sinthetek (678498) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359372)

Does this legislature apply to entities such as DMV and Criminal court clerk as well? Is it pretty much the same in all states? Currently it costs several dollars to get a copy of driving record. Background checks are more. Prices for both vary depending on time frame. It seems such info should be publicly available and fall within the realms of this act as well

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

$random_var (919061) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359406)

I am not too familiar with how it varies from state to state - but I do know that there is booming business in helping make public records more accessible. After all, in this day and age it seems counterintuitive that public records should be kept on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying "Beware of The Leopard". You can find more information about state FOI laws here. [nfoic.org]

Re:Freedom of Information (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360582)

I don't know where you live, but last time I got a background check in Virginia, I had to have my fingerprints taken. A good chunk of the background process is running your fingerprints through a database or two to see what comes up. They do this as people with same/similar names do occur. Now, there are several things in this process that cost money. The time for the person who takes the prints, the machine for taking the prints and the computer that compares the prints. Comparing a fingerprint to however many thousands/millions are on record takes a good chunk of computing power, especially when you have a lot every day to compare. That means money for upkeep and upgrades.

Basically, the process costs the state money, that is not funded from outside sources, and so should not be free. However, that doesn't mean I support it being a huge profit making venture for the state either. FOIA allows for the charging of the cost of pulling up the information. So, shall we say I believe in charging about cost for the info?

Protection of investment (5, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359404)

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.

Re:Protection of investment (1)

CowTipperGore (1081903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360094)

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. For example, Lincoln county, WV, where county offices such as the Assessor were treated as lifetime appointments from the local political bosses, the maps are terrible and this will suddenly be obvious to everyone. And, because Seneca wants to combine the maps with other public data such as ownership and assessment data, many people at the courthouses will find themselves with even less to do. 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.

Re:Protection of investment (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360618)

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?

Re:Protection of investment (1)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360242)

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.

Re:Freedom of Information, analog hole. (1)

DMCBOSTON (714393) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359722)

Most dealings I've had, the registry of deeds will charge a dollar a page, books can't leave the room, so you're stuck. Not too bad, it probably covers their costs and then some, but not unreasonable. Assessors info where I come from is online, including all owner info. It's all public record. Maps are available online, probably can be downloaded or printed, but I see a lot of hosting companies that want you to download nifty software to print it for a fee. I lined up a digital camera facing the monitor and took a picture of my own plot map. It's like the digital version of the analog hole. 'LOL'

Re:Freedom of Information, analog hole. (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360162)

It's the analog version of the analog hole, unless you have a very interesting monitor and camera.

Re:Freedom of Information (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359912)

This is such a backwards way of thinking
Well, it is West Virgina after all. The geneological record of the whole state fits on one page.

Obvious Web 2.0 solution to the revenue loss (5, Funny)

z-j-y (1056250) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359138)

put contextual ads on those maps.

They should talk with the RIAA (-1, Flamebait)

TristanGrimaux (841255) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359206)

RIAA knows exactly how to turn customers into criminals, and they really hate the Internet enough to give them free advice... well at a discount rate... I think.

Ot : The title (3, Funny)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.. :-/

Re:Ot : The title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359296)

I think you mean Wagenvölker.

Re:Ot : The title (-1, Troll)

mh1997 (1065630) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359384)

Just wondering, am I the only one stupid enough to think it had to be about Volkswagen upon reading the title? I'm worried.. :-/
Yes you are stupid (your words), but I am sure that there are others that are just as stupid as you. Probably none more stupid, but surely at least as stupid as you.

Re:Ot : The title (1)

cjsm (804001) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360102)

Well, if you read WV as VW it means your dyslexic.

Make these bitches give us INFORMATION, FREELY (2, Insightful)

dj42 (765300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359278)

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 at our whim. When they fail to provide us with what they want, they ought to be ran out of office, and sent back to public life with the fury of thousands of people accompanying them.

Hey guy -- they did! (5, Insightful)

stomv (80392) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359392)

"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.

Re:Hey guy -- they did! (1)

likes2comment (1021703) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359962)

certain 'millionaires' and college classes have done that. Just simply said let's get donations, etc and spend a couple of thousand dollars on requests for copies of everything, just to tie up city hall.

Re:Make these bitches give us INFORMATION, FREELY (4, Insightful)

Skapare (16644) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359478)

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:Make these bitches give us INFORMATION, FREELY (2, Interesting)

ultima (3696) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359530)

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.

podunk speed tr...er, "rent seekers" (3, Interesting)

harvey the nerd (582806) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

No surprise. West Virginia is zoned out on meds (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22359370)

West Virginia surpasses Tennessee in per capita prescription drug use
Feb 06, 2008 @ 11:08 PM
By LAURA WILCOX
The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- West Virginia leads the nation [herald-dispatch.com] in prescription drug use, according to a report by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee . . .

Defending the State (0, Troll)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359410)

Everyone here seems to be jumping on the state of West Virginia because they had the gall to go and create a work, with tax dollars and try to recoup some of that investment.

Look at the company that is actually suing to get government records for free!

They are creating a system using publicly funded tax records, that is for profit, and even worse, ultimately going to be used to enable corporate spying on the American people. While you think the government should just hand over all of its digital data for $20, I think it is absurd that a well financed and well capitalized corporation cannot pay a few hundred thousand dollars for data that it is going to make millions on.

You are all right, this is an outrage. It is an outrage that a corporation can completely steal from the state in the name of commerce.

What we're looking at here is the looting of America, and unless you think that your job being sent over to India is a good side effect of trickle-down-economics, we need to rethink who is better, the investor, or the inventor, the shareholder, or the citizen. I for one am sick of our race to the bottom economic system let's-gut-america so that a bunch of people can take that money and lobby congress to do it -even more-.

When is this shit going to end!

If all of these people that we trade with around the world were so good as to be able to even remotely tolerate the massive disruption to American jobs that free trade brings, I would think they would be with the United States in Iraq. But they aren't, so screw them.

Re:Defending the State (4, Insightful)

FroBugg (24957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359488)

The information in question is information that ordinary people need to have access to. These people have already paid their state taxes to fund the collection of this data, and they should be allowed to see and use it. You can't say that ordinary people can get it for free but corporations (which, technically, have many of the rights of individual people) have to pay.

Re:Defending the State (0, Offtopic)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359524)

You can't say that ordinary people can get it for free but corporations (which, technically, have many of the rights of individual people) have to pay.

Sure I can. Corporations are not people.

Re:Defending the State (4, Insightful)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359556)

Everyone here seems to be jumping on the state of West Virginia because they had the gall to go and create a work, with tax dollars and try to recoup some of that investment.

The key is with tax dollars - which means taxpayers already paid for the information and now are getting charged a second time for something they could 9and by WVA law should) make available electronically for free or nearly free.

Look at the company that is actually suing to get government records for free!

RTFA - it sued to only pay a reasonable copying cost, not what the state demanded. Winning that is a win for all taxpayers seeking public records. WVA wants to prevent them from making the data available in order to protect their revenue stream.

They are creating a system using publicly funded tax records, that is for profit, and even worse, ultimately going to be used to enable corporate spying on the American people. While you think the government should just hand over all of its digital data for $20, I think it is absurd that a well financed and well capitalized corporation cannot pay a few hundred thousand dollars for data that it is going to make millions on.

Because anyone else can get the same data for the same price; making money by adding value is no sin; it's a good thing.

We - the citizens - paid for that information through taxes, individual and corporate, and ought to have access to it to use as we see fit. If tax assessments were private records it would be a different story, but they aren't.

Re:Defending the State (0, Flamebait)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359596)

Because anyone else can get the same data for the same price; making money by adding value is no sin; it's a good thing.

So, since that company basically sued the state of West Virginia to get all of its data for $20, can I turn sue the company and get all of its data for, say, $20? That's where I'm coming from. If the information was so important, and so valuable, that you can make a billion dollar business with it, then, why is it so wrong for the state from which that information came from get a piece of the pie?

Re:Defending the State (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359982)

So, since that company basically sued the state of West Virginia to get all of its data for $20, can I turn sue the company and get all of its data for, say, $20?

Minor point - the company is giving the info from the state away. That's what is pissing off one tax assessor.

You should be able to get the whole set, from the state, for $20 under the FOIA.

That's where I'm coming from. If the information was so important, and so valuable, that you can make a billion dollar business with it, then, why is it so wrong for the state from which that information came from get a piece of the pie?

Because the state adds no value to the data - we've already, as taxpayers, paid for the compilation of that data. We should have access to, for what it actually costs to reproduce it. The data, in and of itself, is worth $20 - that's what it costs for anyone to get a copy (or free if Seneca wins); what's valuable is what you do with the data after words.

If someone has an idea on how to make it more valuable, then they should feel free to do it. If WVA wants a cut of the action, start a VC fund, invest in the company and shoulder the risk of failure to get a shot at the rewards.

This sounds like some tax assessor looked at their budget, realized they may lose some of it and is trying to use the courts to protect them.

As long as they are up to date ... (1)

Alain Williams (2972) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359426)

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? (2, Interesting)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359434)

Governments can claim copyright? How? There are so many argument against it, I am not even sure where to start.

Re:paaardon? (1)

Xserv (909355) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359492)

You're absolutely right. IANAL but I can think of no precedence where this would ever be appropriate.

Secondly, regardless of the fees that they charge for people to get copies of things in WV, I can't see how they'll lose that much money. West Virginia is in the bottom five of internet access speed availability in the United States (Sourced here [cwa-union.org] . I don't think that many of the people in WV will do online retrieval of public records.

Down in Florida we have the Sunshine laws and we have about anything you want online.

Xserv

Re:paaardon? (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360708)

While internet to individual houses may be low, what do you want to be that most (all?) of the public libraries have internet? You know, those buildings containing these things called 'books', where most people went in the 90's to look up things on the internet. While this may seem quite archaic to you, there are many areas and people in the country that still use this method.

Re:paaardon? (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359678)

Actually, a lot of countries have copyright on public documents. Personally, I think all of them should be public domain but in practice it doesn't usually make a lot of difference.

Re:paaardon? (1)

superwiz (655733) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359856)

Ok, well, in this the authorization for copyright laws comes from the recognizing the need to promote science and arts. Government documents are not even with an earshot of that standard.

More of the same (0, Troll)

wolfbrother-t (21627) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359448)

Same business model as the RIAA. Same response too.

WV genetics (3, Funny)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359458)

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.

Local Gov Perspective (5, Informative)

KayElle (914547) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Local Gov Perspective (1)

DAldredge (2353) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359718)

How much would you charge for a complete digital copy of your maps? How much per page?

Re:Local Gov Perspective (1)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359752)



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 !

Re:Local Gov Perspective (1)

garcia (6573) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360254)

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 boundaries mostly) for geocaching. It's in a strange coordinate system that they use internally but using some open source software I am able to bring it over to WGS84 and then convert to KML/KMZ for Google Earth. This information isn't free from everyone, however, and while working with Dakota County (my county) to help them determine if they wanted a policy (I don't believe anyone needs a geocaching policy) to be developed, I asked for the GIS boundaries to help me see exactly how many geocaches were located within their park boundaries. Their GIS department doesn't release that information for free so I had to go about creating the boundaries myself using Google Earth and some other tools.

It's really unfortunate that as a taxpayer I am required to pay for something twice. I see your (and their) point to doing so as everyone wants to be fiscally conservative but when you're trying to do honest work, for those that have the data, it's a little silly not to let it go out.

Now, once you pay for it, it should be able to be freely released into the public domain especially if the laws governing that area permit it (and I'm sure they do).

Re:Local Gov Perspective (3, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360284)

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.

Re:Local Gov Perspective (1)

MurphyZero (717692) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360566)

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 true for personal taxes as well, even though some people don't have children they still pay school taxes. Likewise, even though this is the goal, in practice it could rarely be said to be equitable. But for that problem I blame the politicians, the people who vote for them, the people who stuff the ballots and the people who buy the politicians.

firehisass (2, Funny)

pangu (322010) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359474)

Don't you mean fireherass? Oh wait, this is Slashdot, you didn't rtfa.

You cannot copyright an idea (3, Informative)

omnirealm (244599) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359616)

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.)

Re:You cannot copyright an idea (1)

josemayor1 (1070508) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359900)

West Virginia was forced by a judge. In europe is the same
http://www.doivol.com/ [doivol.com]

Re:You cannot copyright an idea (1)

Yartrebo (690383) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360128)

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.

Is there a privacy issue here? (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 6 years ago | (#22359786)

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?

Paying Fines in Pennies (2, Funny)

syntap (242090) | more than 6 years ago | (#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?

As a West Virginia Property Owner... (3, Insightful)

Black-Man (198831) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Party affiliation meaningless below national level (1)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360764)

Look at Philadelphia. That city is about as committed to the values of the Democratic Party as a right-wing Banana Republic.

Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Congress (2, Interesting)

Insightfill (554828) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360132)

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.

so when someone (1)

T-ice (1069420) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360238)

If my job is ever replaced by a machine, I can sue whoever developed the machine?

Funny Slashdot is bitching about this when... (-1, Offtopic)

Whatsmynickname (557867) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360376)

...the Clintons were selling the White House [tripod.com] ! While wholesale fraud of billions of dollars was occurring, there was dead silence here. Holy f**k Billy bob is STILL selling his presidency long after he left [nytimes.com] and people are pounding their keyboard over an $8 charge for a document in some out of the way place?!?!?! Wow, just wow.

Well to be fair about it, Clinton isn't the only one who is selling the White House [whitehouseforsale.org] but they are the obvious top front runners for selling out.

Well, here comes the democratic shills and Clinton lovers to mod me down. Oh well, one can bring up the truth, and it hurts, but a lot of people just seem to put their fingers in their ears and yell LA LA LA CANT WAIT TO SEE A DEMOCRAT IN THE WHITE HOUSE LA LA LA regardless of getting the same results as Bush for the last eight years...

There is an argument for charging for public info (2, Interesting)

rbrander (73222) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360402)

...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.

She may have a point... (2, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360406)

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 standard codes" as its electrical code, the incorporated portion could be printed without paying royalties to the people who wrote the book.

Speaking as a programmer who uses this data... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22360604)

I work at a company that does analysis of this data for our clients. We process this data and provide access to it for our customers. Our analysis adds significant value to this data. We currently work out of the state of Florida and provide access to the tax collector and property assessor data for every county in Florida. (Company name removed for obvious reasons.)

There have been times where the counties have fought us to keep their data secret. For example, Collier county refused to give us GIS shapefiles for their county. These files were put together with public funds and tax money, and they refused to give the information to private companies for free. My boss took the county to court and won - they now provide this data for free on the Internet to anybody.

We have also run into counties in other states where they were planning on charging us $0.02/CPU second on their server for access to their public access data. While I can understand another state considering charging firms from out of the state for the data, they assume that it's their job to make money from that data. That data has been paid for, and should be free.

As much as I'm against lawsuits as a solution to a problem in most cases, this is one of the cases where I think it's appropriate. It's YOUR data and it's put out for personal, business, and educational purposes. Collecting this data and not allowing others to access, including private companies, is keeping information that keeps the government honest away from YOU.

A claim of threat of material harm? (1)

SlappyBastard (961143) | more than 6 years ago | (#22360736)

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.

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