Rule status: Proposed
Comment by date: October 30, 2020
Rule Full Text
The Department of Records Information Services is proposing to update rules for access to Municipal Archives, Library materials in general, and guidelines for access to special collections. It intends to update the fee schedule for reproduction services to account for the production and delivery of requested products using digital technology.
Send comments by
- Email: DORISrules@records.nyc.gov
- Fax: 1 (212) 788-8625
- Mail: Department of Records & Information Services, 31 Chambers Street Room/Floor: Suite 305 ; New York, New York
Online comments: 103
Hi – I have a comment about Section B: “Reproductions are provided for the researcher’s personal use only. Reproductions may not be reduplicated, published, or transferred to another individual or institution.” There are hundreds of professional genealogists who access your records on behalf of paying private clients who want to be informed about their personal family history. Please make the wording on this change clear so that professional genealogists know they can legally obtain this information on behalf of their private clients. If you do mean to make it illegal for a genealogist to provide their client with the information, please provide a way that it can be obtained by the genealogist, such as through a Power of Attorney form signed by their client. Thank you.
Mayor di Blasio and the City of New York must be really hard up for money if these silly and unfair rules are to be instituted. And, why not ? di Blasio and his crowd encourage hatred and division and permit businesses of merchants and small business owners in New York to be looted and trashed. Politicians shouldn’t be surprised if Citizens believe incompetent public servants are attempting to rip off more money from people by placing additional fees on the use of public records. Such measures may even have a darker side. It may be an attempt to destroy history, family connections and family pride which — it would now appear — are politically incorrect. Vote the idiots OUT !
Linda C. Kmiecik
Public records are just that – PUBLIC – and belong to all of us and must remain accessible. I found my Irish ancestors through public records, went to Ireland and met other descendants. They in turn came to Illinois for a family reunion in 2007, along with other relatives from CA, AZ and other places, generating funds for many municipalities, airlines , etc. All of it was wonderful. What is being proposed is a travesty. Not only should professional genealogists continue to have access, but so should descendants directly be able to obtain such records, if they desire them. And such items should be allowed to be shared with other relatives who are also descendants.
This comment pertains to proposed rules for access to records. I do genealogy for my family and have paid for and obtained legally available records in a non-certified not for legal use format thru your office. Thank you for your help with those.
I think that once such a record (not for legal use, non certified) is obtained it should be able to be shared in a non commercial and or not for profit manner with pertinent family members for family trees.
Family members and family genealogists work together to obtain this information in an ethical manner for their personal family trees.
Please help us to continue this by not restricting access thru licensing and other such means.
Thank you so much
Mary Ellen Rogan
As a lineage researcher for heritary organizations, I often get copies of vital records to include in applications. If these records cannot be shared in the application process it will hamper my ability to do my work and the applicants ability to join an organization since the organization is the final respository of the vital record. Please explain how this can be accommodated in the new structure without creating an unreasonable burden on the people in need of the records.
Sharon S Atkins
I help prospective members research and acquire supportive evidence for three lineage organizations.
Anything beyond requesting and paying a one-time reasonable fee to obtain and use a non-certified record of a public record for genealogical purposes and/or membership requirements would place a extreme financial burden upon potential members.
Lineage organizations are a vital component of the promotion, education and preservation of history.
This proposal would create a barrier to the ability of the lineage organizations to remain viable.
Creating new fees that harm genealogists who already spend our own money to municipal archives for research is just making this important part of life harder. Nobody profits off of this adding fees is just not fair. Find other ways to raise revenue.
I have been doing research in NY by mail and inperson and do not always get the papers or certificates needed. Why is something so easy to provide have to be so hard. This is a real is a money grab by the Mayor. My husband was born in NYC and we needed a new copy of his birth certificate. So I did get form and wrote letter and sent our check after nearly 2 months my letter and check came back stating I could not order it, only he could! Really my name is on our checks and address the same. So voided and had husband send and another 2 months later it arrived. Honestly this is really foolish.. These are public records.. On;y in NY do they think of thing like this…
Laura H. Congleton
I am a professional genealogist who conducts research for clients, as well as for public talks I give on a variety of family history subjects. I often visit the Municipal Archives to research vital records and am more than happy to pay a one-time fee to have those documents copied for my use. However, I strongly object to the notion that anyone should have to pay an additional fee every time a document is used.
Some of the copies I purchase are submitted to lineage societies with client applications, and are then handed over to the society itself for long-term record-keeping purposes. The society may choose to publish those lineage papers and accompanying documentation or make them accessible online to future applicants.
Other copies of vital records I purchase are sent to clients to share with their families and use as they see fit, including publishing them in books and on blogs. It would be impossible to track down all the ways my clients use your records and to ask them to pay additional fees for each occurrence. These are public records, collected by the city for the people of the city.
There should be no restrictions or licensing fees on the use of public records for personal, educational, or scholarly work. Adding these extra fees will make these public records less accessible, not more so.
The government proposal to slap exorbitant fees for access and publication of the genealogical historical information held in its public archives is an infringement on free speech. That infringement is government censorship and is an impediment imposed by the government on the ability of the people to self educate on their true history.
Genealogical information is one of the best sources for information regarding the history of the nation and the history of individuals and their families. A license fee for publication of information held in public archives places an undue burden on authors and infringes free speech.
Any fee charged should be related to the government’s cost of maintaining and accessing the data and should not be related to the use to which the data will be put. Anything less is censorship.
Mark A. Connelly
In a free society, government works belong to the people. As use fees and restrictions on the use of reproductions are in opposition to both the First Amendment and FOIL, the proposed rules must be amended to end these practices.
I. The current and proposed rules are not compatible with the First Amendment
The First Amendment provides Americans broad latitude to publish government materials, even when the government opposes their publication. This freedom is necessary not only for the public to be able to make their opinions known in the public square, but also to root out corruption. Given that the proposed rules not only require researchers to request permission to publish materials, but implicitly allow the City to deny such requests based on the use of the word “may” in Section 3-01(B)(3), the proposed rules serve as unconstitutional impediments on free speech.
It is not difficult to envision a scenario where the public interest would be impacted by these rules. For example, if a researcher obtains a reproduction of a record that shows corrupt acts of officials, could the City use these rules to prevent the researcher from passing the reproduction onto a journalist, or prevent the news media from releasing the reproduction to the public? To preserve the rights of the people under the First Amendment, both current and proposed rules must be modified to eliminate any restrictions on the use of reproductions.
II. The current and proposed rules violate the FOIL
In the proposed rules, the City seeks to mandate that researchers obtain permission and execute contracts with the City prior to the use of reproductions. The proposed rules would further permit the City to restrict future access for “[a]ny violation” of these rules. However, the Committee on Open Government has stated in an advisory opinion that “[c]onditioning the release of copies on contractual agreements governing future treatment of the copies, in our opinion, would thwart the very purpose and intent of the Freedom of Information Law. It is our belief that when materials are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law, upon receipt of the appropriate fee, they must be released to the applicant without restriction” (No. FOIL-AO-15695, Dec. 19, 2005). As a result, this practice would violate the FOIL, and both current and proposed rules must be modified to eliminate any restrictions on the use of reproductions. To the extent that the advisory opinion stated an agency may notify a requester of copyright protections in materials, this advice has likely been superseded due to the recent holding in Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org, Inc., No. 18-1150, slip op. (U.S. Apr. 27, 2020).
The proposed rules also purport that the City may impose use fees upon researchers. However, this is also contrary to the FOIL. As the same advisory opinion so aptly states, “the specific language of the Freedom of Information Law and the regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government indicate that, absent statutory authority, an agency may charge fees only for the reproduction of records” (No. FOIL-AO-15695, Dec. 19, 2005). As the City may not contravene a statute via rule, this practice would violate the FOIL, and both current and proposed rules must be modified to eliminate the imposition of any use fees.
People, like myself, interested in preserving and learning family history
should have access to information about their families w/o having to
pay a fee.
We are contributing to history by archiving families who have lived in
New York City in the past and contributed to the tax base and
stability of family life. Most of us are or were taxpayers for many years
and contributed to the city ourselves. Do please take this into consideration.
As a member of a large family whose origins include the Port of New York at Ellis Island for many members and having settled, governed, resided and maintained businesses within the state of New York; I understand a need for fees related to obtaining copies of records and paying for copies. However, I do not see a need for a license to record, maintain, obtain, receive, share or otherwise retain records for marriage, death, birth, residential, business or other genealogical records for members of my own families with whom I have ties to. Since we can’t choose our families why should we pay to obtain, or share them? It is not reasonable, not responsible, not logical to do so. I therefore, hereby request that no licensing be required for researchers, genealogists, family members, whether immediate, or descended be subjected to such regulations, rules, or other obligation to a government for which matters of public record, military, or otherwise be implemented now, or in the future. It is my hope that you will use judgement in this consideration to include the fact that many researchers are spending hundreds and thousands of hours to obtain records of their families from whom we all are descended and that requiring a license is a ridicule, punishment, which is demeaning to our relatives and ourselves which should be considered harassment for participating in activities pertaining to a desire to gain knowledge of where we come from, who we are descended from and sharing such information with the generations yet to come. Thank you very much for your time, efforts, and considerations in these important matters that will effect not only the people who work so hard on their family history, but also those adopted, yet to be born, and all generations in the future.
IF IT WASN’T FOR 23NME, TWO NEICE’S OF MINE WOULD NOT HAVE FOUND THEIR FAMILY (ROOTS) I ALSO FOUND MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER, AND GREAT GRAND-MOTHER, GRANDFATHER,AND GRAND-MOTHERS GRAVES,AMONGST 14 OTHER RELATIVES. DON’T OUR CHILDREN HAVE THE RIGHT TO OUR HISTORY…SHAME ON THE MONEY HUNGRY PEOPLE RUNNING NEW YORK…
These are public documents, already paid for in their original filing fees. That said, the Municipal Archives is a treasure for anyone with an interest in NYC and deserves our support. COVID has gutted the City’s coffers, but what is proposed are permanent changes to the fee structure, and, more disturbing, licensing, with no distinction between commercial and private use. The Bettman Archives should not be the business model for a public resource, much of the holdings would be public domain by their age alone. The National Archives should be the model for proposed fees. The Municipal Archives is not the cash cow that will balance the City’s budget and should be supported as any public historical and educational resource; more than that since it is a destination for these researching their roots. Perhaps a different fee structure for non residents.
The suggestion that DORIS would charge licensing fees for the use of public records suggests that these records can be copyrighted by the City of New York, something that no other government archives in the US has asserted. The purpose of Archives are to provide public records to the public at cost. AS reasonable search fee or copy fee is one thing, but this proposal intends to charge researchers for using public records in their research. Beyond the fact that this would be unenforceable, it implies that public records are not a matter of public record.
Public records have always been defined differently than copyrighted material. Researchers have always been able to access viral records for purposes of genealogical research, proving estates, and proving lineage for lineage society membership. This proposal would completely stifle the ability for researchers to use these records for any of these purposes and more. Legal records, including tax records, property histories, and other legal records are important to a wide variety of people involved in commerce and other areas in New York City. The inability to access these records freely could prove devastating to those who need those records to establish ownership and other interests in real property.
Finally, the proposal purports to give the city unlimited ability to prevent the use of any particular public record for any reason. This is a violation of New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), and is likely to lead to costly lawsuits under FOIL rules. This proposal serves no definable public purpose and defeats the main purpose of the archives, which are to make records available to the public. In the USSR, the archives were for the use of the state only. People were only allowed to access archived documents if it served the interest of the state to do so. It seems like DORIS is moving in the same direction.
Genealogists and local historians must be able to share old vital records without hinderance. Requiring such persons to pay for licensure of public, government-made records stymies dissemination of information.
New York City created millions of records and was and continues to be an important center of immigration, life, culture, and finance. This Rule, if enacted as written, will hinder people from learning about New York’s past and their own family histories.
These are records about people and must be readily available and not shrouded in secrecy.
JOHN B. PEGRAM
I first want to compliment DORIS and its staff for the quality of its preservation work and service to the public, especially those interested in New York City history and genealogy.Comment attachment
However, I strongly object to the Proposed Rules relating to fees for reproduction and use of public records, including the proposed license fees. My objections are briefly summarized here and set forth in more detail in the attachment.
First and most importantly, the proposed rules (and parts of existing rules relating to fees) appear to be inconsistent with policy behind and specific provisions of the New York State Freedom of Information Law (“FOIL”)
The proposed rules are inconsistent with FOIL Section 87, which limits fees for reproduction and use of public records. In my opinion, there is no valid reason to charge more that 25 cents per page for copies of documents, including vital records, where no search is required.
Section 3003(e) of the NYC Charter specifically requires, “The department [DORIS] shall be responsible for granting access to records with applicable provisions of law.” The FOIL is such a law, yet it does not appear to have been considered.
Additionally, as detailed in the attachment, the Notice of the Proposed Rules does not appear to comply with the requirements of City Charter section 1003. For example, the stated purpose does not justify the restrictions on low cost reproduction of non-certified, vital record copies and license fees. The requirements of the FOIL have not been addressed. The costs of providing the services are not disclosed or explained, although FOIL section 87 imposed restrictions on fees, requiring that they be based on costs.
The Proposed Rule should be withdrawn and a consultation should be held with interested parties.
Jan Meisels Allen
From: International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS)Comment attachment
Please read our attached statement on the proposed regulation regarding the proposed rules relating to the Municipal Archives and Municipal Reference Library. We do not have an issue with the proposed fee increases for copies of vital records. However, we are totally opposed to licensing public records for educational, scholarly, non-profit and media use that were created predominately at taxpayer expense!
For those who are not familiar with the IAJGS: The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies is the umbrella organization of 93 genealogical societies and Jewish historical societies worldwide whose approximately 9,000 members are actively researching their Jewish roots. We have 5-member societies domiciled in the New York City -Long Island area and a total of 8 in the greater NYC area. The IAJGS was formed in 1988 to advance genealogical study, to elevate research standards and to provide a common voice for issues of significance to its members. Our societies’ members include both professional and hobbyist genealogists. In 2020, we held our 40th consecutive annual International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (www.iajgs.org). One of our primary objectives is to promote public access to genealogically-relevant records.
Alec Stephen Ferretti
The following contextual information for this comment is excerpted from my masters thesis which was about public records held by archives. This topic was inspired by the countless legal gymnastics that have been pole-vaulted throughout the years by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services. Their tireless efforts to ignore Freedom of Information Laws, and my ensuing inspiration to fight back, are what I can indirectly credit for leading me down the path to becoming a professional genealogist.
Freedom of Information
Archives operate subject to countless statutory laws. In the United States, laws can be passed legislatively at many levels of government. Laws are often short in length, but become expanded upon by the court system due to the principle of stare decisis, which allows rulings to set legal precedents. As laws are adjudicated, they develop corresponding case law which bears the same weight as the original statute. Archives sometimes have to handle cases of conflicting or unclear laws – situations in which the spirit of the law is not encapsulated by the actual wording of the law, situations in which there are unintended consequences of laws, and even situations where the the archival profession may simply believe a certain law is improper (Peterson & Peterson, 1985, p. 9). The Constitution grants all powers not expressly given to the federal government to the states. Although there are federal-level record, and archives that preserve them, many laws about record keeping are left to local governments, resulting in countless types of records being subject to the laws thousands of jurisdictions – states, towns, counties, etc. To put it succinctly, “Laws are created by different people at different times in different places, and consistency and congruence are unusual,” (Peterson & Peterson, 1985, p. 10). While some of these laws govern all archives, such as statutes regarding copyright, those that are administered by the government are subject to even further laws, one of which are Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. These laws exist at many levels of government, and dictate what is and is not a public record. FOI laws are broad in scope, with the intention of shedding light on government activities, and render all government records public unless excluded via narrow exemptions.
Archivists as a profession have not properly focused on the implications of FOI, and sometimes find themselves in violation of the law. When The Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was first passed in the mid 20th century, the topic was written about extensively within archival literature, but the 21st century has seen a steep decline in its discussion. Archivists are keen to explore other legal aspects of the profession, but for one reason or another, Freedom of Information has fallen by the wayside. As a result, there have been many cases in which government archives have improperly interpreted FOI laws, or not followed them entirely. This paper will outline case studies in which governmental archives have failed to properly follow FOI laws, and end with a discussion of how to mitigate this reality.
One type of agency that is rarely, if ever, considered within FOI legislation is archives. Archives exist in many forms, but in essence, they exist to preserve records. While many archives are privately-owned, nearly all levels of Government have archives of their own. Besides the National Archives and Records Administration, every State has a State Library and/or Archive, as do many cities and towns. Smaller municipalities sometimes have a formal archive with trained staff and a reading room, while others might simply have old records that are made available to the public by the Town or City Clerk. The records in the custody of all of these types of archives are typically subject to FOI laws, firmly establishing the majority of their holdings as public records. This is certainly necessary; historic records of the government should be as accessible as modern governmental records, but their nature can make compliance with FOI laws difficult.
FOI laws are meant to encompass records created while the agency goes about its’ functions, and the ease of access to records is enshrined into law because taxpayers fund the agencies that create the records, so the citizenry has the right to ensure that the Government is functioning properly. According to the US Court of Appeals:
It has often been observed that the central purpose of the FOIA is to ‘open up the workings of government to public scrutiny.’ One of the premises of that objective is the belief that ‘an informed electorate is vital to the proper operation of a democracy.’ A more specific goal implicit in the foregoing principles is to give citizens access to the information on the basis of which government agencies make their decisions, thereby equipping the populace to evaluate and criticize those decisions (McGehee v. CIA).
By using this lens, it becomes apparent that archives are one of the most important facets of Government on which to shine a proverbial light. Not only do they hold records of modern day to day governance, but they are often the sole source of historical primary source data about the behavior of governments and individuals.
In general, archivists know to be mindful of ways in which they must comply with the law. According to the SAA Core Values Statement, “Archivists promote and provide the widest possible accessibility of materials, consistent with any mandatory access restrictions, such as public statute, donor contract, business/institutional privacy, or personal privacy. Although access may be limited in some instances, archivists seek to promote open access and use when possible.” Legal discussions more often revolve around contracts with donors and copyright, because these relate to all types of archives. In the case of both of these issues, the question at hand often regards what an archive cannot make available. There could be donor agreements preventing disclosure of certain records, and many materials created after 1924 cannot be published or reproduced in certain ways.
In the case of FOI, the issue arises for the converse reason – an entity is appealing to an archive to release a record they otherwise are not disclosing. Because most archives are not subject to FOI laws, they are not a frequent discussion topic in Archival literature, and other legal issues are not always relevant because the force preventing the disclosure is the archive itself, not the other way around.
In one of the few TAA articles that discusses this, The Society of American Archivists (SAA) President Ericson, in 2005, lamented that “Secrecy separates us from our fundamental right as citizens to know how decisions and policies are made,” and cites a number of cases in which the government classified information, such as their knowledge of the Final Solution before the end of WWII, a nuclear bomb that was jettisoned off the Atlantic Coast, or the use of torture during the Iraq War (Ericson, 2005, p. 19). Outside of the public interest in knowing about the activities being undertaken by a government, this classification actually impedes Government functions, because one branch does not know what the other is doing. He cited a 2004 report that discovered that the CIA had determined that the Iraqi regime had abandoned its nuclear program before the invasion, but the information was so classified, that it had not even made its way to the President.
He asks where archivists have been, and why they have not stepped in to “discourage unreasonable restrictions on access” amongst government-created records (Ericson, 2005, p. 21). He references a now-30-year-old proclamation by the SAA that archivists should “initiate and/or support legislation, regulations, and professional practices which allow maximum access to public and private archival records while protecting individual and organizational rights and interests” (Ericson, 2005, p. 21). He cites the history of access to government records in America, going from the Revolution to the creation of FOIA, and its modern-day implementation.
Timeline of DORIS Refusal to follow FOIL
Whereas most archives have a fee schedule for reproducing different formats of records as policy, the NYC Municipal archives, or more precisely, its parent organization, DORIS, the Department of Records & Information Services, has refused to make copies of microfilm for patrons at any cost. The archives have denied FOIL requests for duplications of records on the grounds that the materials were already made available onsite for viewing. While it has been long-standing case law that FOIL requires agencies to reproduce records at cost if the applicant requests them, they were denying that such actions were necessary.
In early 2015, Brook Schreier-Ganz submitted a FOIL request to the Municipal Archives to inquire about purchasing copies of microfilms of vital records indexes which were available in their reading room. There had been no way to consult these indexes without paying the archives a search fee or visiting the reading room in person. Because the archives did not have an immediate plan to digitize that records series, Ganz wanted to purchase copies of the microfilm, which would only cost about $2,000, and put the index to the records online herself. In her initial discussions with the Records Access Officer, he seemed very amicable to this, but after Ganz committed to having found the funding for this project, the agency reversed their stance.
On September 3, 2015, Ganz filed an Article 78 petition in the New York County Supreme Court (Ganz v. DORIS). In November 2016, DORIS agreed to settle with Ganz, who had created an entity named Reclaim the Records for the purposes of this lawsuit. They claimed that “DORIS’ offered production of these copies was not made pursuant to FOIL, but merely in connection with its good-faith attempt to settle this proceeding.” DORIS maintained that they were not required to sell copies of microfilms, while Ganz maintained that they did (Ganz v. DORIS).
However, a non-binding opinion penned by the New York State Committee of Open Government agreed entirely with Ganz’ position, saying that “agencies must copy accessible records upon payment of the requisite fee”, disagreeing with DORIS claim that they did not have to provide copies. It is curious as to why an archive would be hesitant to sell copies of microfilms. Even if the law did not require them to sell copies, in no way did it prevent them from doing so, as evidenced by their settlement.
In 2019, the exact same parties litigated the exact same issue. Reclaim the Records requested copies of microfilms known as the Brooklyn Old Town Records, which they were going to digitize and put online for free, hosted at Internet Archive. DORIS refused to fulfill the request, again claiming that the law did not require them to reproduce records that were available for public inspection.
Unlike the nearly identical 2015 case, this suit did make its way to a judge, who awarded summary judgement to Reclaim the Records on June 10, 2019. The ruling concurred with Reclaim the Records’ “Simple argument that ‘and’ means ‘and’ and that FOIL compels the City to make records available for copying” (Reclaim the Records v. DORIS). This refers to the text of FOIL which states that records must be “available for inspection and copying”. He further adds that he found DORIS’ arguments “unavailing”.
In the case of DORIS, there was one other lingering issue that likely impacted this case. The archive has two reading rooms – one reading room for their manuscript holdings, and one for their microfilm. In the latter, there are signs displayed all throughout the room warning patrons that photography is prohibited and that the only way to make reproductions is by paying DORIS for copies. Upon entry to the reading room, they also require all patrons to sign a contract, affirming that they will not take any pictures within the reading room.
As per the agency rules, vital records are only allowed to be reproduced in the form of a certified copy, which allow it to be used for legal purposes. There is no mechanism by which patrons are allowed to create non-certified versions of these records. Although the archive has microfilm copiers, and those same copiers are used to reproduce other microfilms, the staff prohibit patrons from using those copiers to print uncertified copies of the vital records. Instead, for any copy of a certificate, a patron must pay $11. Although yet to be litigated, this appears to be a violation of FOIL because patrons are not allowed to photograph nor make photocopies of public records.
This fee brings in quite a bit of revenue for DORIS. In the fiscal year 2015, they received 52,890 orders for vital records. 73% of those were made online, and brought in a minimum of $17 per copy, because there is an extra $6 fee for remote reference requests, plus they charge extra for each borough searched. Their online purchases brought in just over $650,000 in revenue, and their in room duplication brought in just over $150,000 in revenue. Factoring costs of postage, paper, ink, etc, DORIS likely netted in the ballpark $750,000 in one year, less the cost of labor, just by charging for these copies.
Ironically, the very same Agency produced an exact reproduction of the majority of these vital records 40 years ago and supplied them to FamilySearch, the Genealogical research arm of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In 2017, as FamilySearch ramped up their project of digitizing their entire microfilm collection, they put the entire run of New York City Municipal archives vital records that were in their possession online for free. On November 2, 2017, DORIS’ attorneys sent FamilySearch a letter informing them that they should be “limiting access to digital copies of the NYC records obtained from DORIS to in-library viewing”. An outside entity was hosting these images online for free, at no direct cost to the archive, and the archive actively sought to limit their availability.
In addition to preventing the dissemination of records, DORIS has also attempted to charge ultra vires licensing fees to patrons who wished to publish a public record. In November 2019, a patron contacted the Municipal Archives to ask permission to publish a birth certificate from 1906 on Wikipedia. This record is a public record under the laws of New York City; it has been available in the archives’ reading room for decades, and FamilySearch has now put it online – albeit in a location-locked system. Yet the archivist who responded to the patron’s inquiry said that they must pay a licensing fee of $50 to the archive if they want to publish it. They enclosed a “Permission to Publish Contract”. Some states do allow charges to be levied differently when public records are being used commercially, however New York does not, and more importantly Wikipedia is not a commercial venture.
This raises many questions, namely how it is possible that a document from 1906 is copyrighted? This record is a government-created, list of facts, from before 1924, so it is seemingly impossible that DORIS could possess any intellectual property rights. Thus, this is yet another example of an archive preventing the free use of public records, in this case, by claiming to possess something that never even existed! For what it is worth, I am not a court, and only a court can officially rule on matters of copyright. That said, it seems ludicrous that DORIS has any intellectual property rights over these records.
The Rule ChangeComment attachment
In this light, the proposed rule change is not really anything new. DORIS has insisted on illegal practices for years – likely decades. For my 15th birthday, my mother took me to the Municipal Archives to look for records. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that we had to pay $11 for each photocopy! I wanted to come home with a big stack of 20 or 30 records, but because of the egregious – now understood to be illegal – pricing, I had to settle for one: my mom got me the marriage record of my great great grandparents, Max and Lena Goldstein. I waited many years to get the remainder of the records.
I am not going to bother to go line by line through the proposed rule, explaining why so many of the changes are comically unlawful. I believe that DORIS is well aware of this, and does not intend to change any of their practices, even though these rules, read literally, are far more draconian than even the current system in place. I don’t really care about the new rules. I don’t care because this simply constitutes the formalization, perhaps an attempted legitimization, of decades of terrible practices.
In fact, just in February, after I had submitted my thesis, I sat at a board table with DORIS representatives, my colleagues, and legal counsel up the wazoo, where we itemized each and every one of the agency’s unlawful rules, much to the masked chagrin of corporate counsel. The fact that instead of reversing course, DORIS is publicly dying on this hill of skullduggery, is quite honestly the icing on the cake of a wild ride of nonsense in which I have been involved for my entire adult life. In stark contrast with all of my colleagues, I am glad this asinine rule is being promulgated. The ensuing paper trail will make litigation that much more fun.
Supplementing my Comment on October 17, 2020, it appears that DORIC cannot make a valid claim to copyright of images of NYC vital records, because they are simple statements of facts, without creative input. They are not copyrightable subject matter, under the Supreme Court ruling in Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991). For a layman’s explanation, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_in_compilation and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_Publications,_Inc.,_v._Rural_Telephone_Service_Co.
Even if images of vital records were protectable by copyright, it appears to me that DORIS cannot validly claim ownership. The authors were the persons who filled in the forms and DORIS has not been assigned ownership rights from them.
I am very opposed to licensing fees for public records. I have been researching my family genealogy for several years and have spent many hours in the NYC Archives researching records. More often than not I have been unsuccessful. On those rare successful occasions I walk away with a document bought and paid for which I now own. If only my ancestors had had the foresight to hand these documents down, I would have the original versions and you would not be entitled to charge any fees. I should be able to do whatever I want to with these public records. I understand that there may be a nominal fee for the staff time spent retrieving the document I have obtained since NYC is so far behind the times indexing and imaging the records that could and should be provided digitally and free of charge.
So many other states and countries, for that matter, provide copies without a hassle or fee. Get on the stick NYC!
“§ 2-06 Other Fees
“Publication or license fee[, per item] for any use of a reproduction of a still image , document, or other archival item (except moving images) [reproduced. Publication or license fees will range from $15.00 for editorial use in a scholarly publication, up to $75.00, or more, for any use of a reproduction of a still image, document, or other archival item] in any type of product or media including post-card, poster, book, magazine, newspaper, newsletter, film, video, television, or web-site, per item, based on the type of [proposed] use. The publication or license fee start at $15.00 for educational, scholarly or non-profit products or media, and increase for commercial products or media.
“Commercial use of moving images, per second.
“Educational, scholarly or non-profit use of moving images, per second.”
I am my family’s genealogist and as written, this section is completely unacceptable. The principal value of my time-consuming (and expensive – I have paid hundreds of dollars at the Municipal Archives) research is to share the results with my family members; the documents are of no use in my file cabinet or on my computer’s hard disk if no one sees them. This can mean a printable PDF document I share containing vital records (birth, marriage, death): subject to the license fees of $15 per image. This can mean a family tree published on a for-profit genealogy site such as Ancestry.com with supporting B/M/D documentation: $75 per certificate. God forbid I have a short run of 25 books printed for family members, or I put together a website of my family tree! And should I locate a film in the Archives of interest to my family members, the prohibitive cost of the license assures they will never even see it.
The secondary value of my genealogical research is to aid distant cousins who seek the information I have, and vice versa. Since beginning my genealogical research in earnest in New York in 2016, I have found half a dozen distant cousins in the USA, in Ireland, in the UK, and in Australia – the Irish diaspora – and we have shared family tree information, tips about genealogical sources, photographs, parish baptism and marriage certificates, and municipal vital records certificates.
As the major port of immigration to the United States during the 19th century through the 1920s, New York City has a special responsibility to Americans seeking their ancestors who arrived here. The proposed rule as written is unreasonable and places an unnecessary burden on individuals and is therefore unacceptable.
“$10.00 Educational, scholarly or non-profit use of moving images, per second.”
In addition, the message in this item is clear: No teacher in New York City is to use any of the Municipal Archives video holdings. The price is astronomical. As a practical matter, teachers cannot hope to overcome the red tape which will be required to clear the usage rights, not to mention the budget imputation. This is a make-work anti-education rule with no imaginable justification.
“§ 2-03 Reproductions— still images (for personal use only; licensing fees will apply for other uses, see §2-07).
Low-resolution digital copy of any single item previously digitized.
High-resolution, non-watermarked digital copy of any two-dimensional item no larger than 28”x36”.
High-resolution, non-watermarked digital copy of oversize flat item larger than 28”x36”.”
This section is meaningless, as there are no definitions of “low” or “high” resolutions which must be expressed in picture elements (pixels or px) per inch = ppi (in printing, dots per inch = dpi). A “high-resolution” image should be 300ppi or better; so a standard US letter size document 8.5”x11” must be at least 2550px x 3300px, stored in a non-destructive file format, ideally TIFF which has superior colorspace and metadata handling to the PNG format. A 28”x36” image should be at least 8400px x 10800px. “Low-resolution” should be 72 or 96 ppi, stored in a lossy compressible format, commonly JPEG today but likely to become HEIF (HEIC or AV1) in the years to come.
As a practical matter, large files should be made available primarily for download as opposed to disk (optical, magnetic, or solid-state). It may be useful to add language such as “made available for download through a secure portal of the Municipal Archives”.
Note that beyond ugly watermarking, there are methods available to “tag” images with metadata (Exif, IPTC/IIM, XMP), although there is no clear standard adhered to in the industry (XMP did not, as expected ten years ago, replace IIM). So “sidecar” text files with metadata should accompany media files.
“§ 2-04 Reproductions — moving images (for personal use only; licensing fees will apply for other use, see §2-07).
Low-resolution digital copy of any moving image tape or film previously digitized, per title.
High-resolution non-watermarked digital copy of moving image tape or film, per title.”
Without even a cursory definition of what “high” and “low” resolutions mean, this is totally ambiguous. Are the “high” resolution videos equivalent to broadcast quality? What baseline resolutions and codecs are offered? 720p, 1080p resolution? H.264/AVC, H.265/HEVC codecs? Moreover, it is implied, but not stated, that the “low-resolution” videos will be watermarked. Will they be unwatchable? How large is the watermark? Is it opaque? Is it in a corner, like a TV network logo bug? Why not just insert source information in an opening and closing card (easy to automate), or better yet, deliver it with a metadata sidecar file?
Also, §2-07 is referenced, but this paragraph is to be replaced by §2-06 in the proposal, which seems to be an error.
Public records belong to the public. Cost should not be a barrier to access of these records.
Please do not require a payment to review genealogical records as freedom is so important to all who have interest in such matters. Some can never afford the cost and thus it would be severely limiting to so many.
KAREN D BAKER
Please reconsider these changes. As a genealogist I have spent countless hours researching my ancestors. I have spent plenty of money obtaining records legally through your office for my personal use. Charging more fees, and placing restrictions on how these documents can and can’t be used or you need to purchase “rights” is placing an undue burden on everyone. We are family to our ancestors. We have the “right” to have a copy of our ancestors document whatever it may be. I understand the need to charge a fair price to recieve a copy of the document, the cost of time and paper and ink, however making the public pay for usage rights is really preposterous. If you think about it reaclly, all these documents need to be made available online and accessible. It is not just your history, it’s our history, it’s New York’s history and America’s history. DORIS may be the gatekeepers of this information, but it should not lock the gate and only share the key with those who can afford it. You would be doing a disservice to your job and this nation by keeping these public records out of the hands of those whose want it or need it. It is not just genealogists who require access to these, but historians, educators, students, we all benefit from this access. Please do not place more restrictions on access and usage, no one will benefit from this. Thank you.
I can understand reasonable fees for copies of vital records and other genealogical documents but I totally disagree with rules that limit someone to share and use those records. Genealogists preserve family history to share with current and future generations. If we can’t share the documents, we have no proof of what we discovered. Frequently, it is our senior citizens and other retired people who get involved in genealogy. More fees would be a burden to them.
Lovejoy Reeves duryea
Public records should remain public records with easy access without huge amounts of red tape, power of attorney slips, proof you are a relative etc.
This is nothing but a lousy way for NY to raise more money that hurts everyone, stymies research and the discourages the second most popular hobby in America– genealogy . Save the public records for the public, please.
Access to public records is an issue important to many professional and amateur genealogists. Please ensure that these records remain easily accessible, without imposing a fee, unless it be VERY minimal. Thank you for your consideration.
Teresa Lynn Day-Smith
My family has been in this country long before the Revolutionary War. I am constantly discovering new things about them through records.
Just because an entity possesses a document doesn’t mean that they can do whatever they want with it. Certain things must be considered – how did the document come into someone’s possession? What was the original understanding when the document was created? If the understanding was that the document was to be stored by an entity and accessible in the future, it should remain so.
Public records – created by taxpayer funds – should be freely accessible, period. While fees for searches and copies appropriately support the preservation of records and staffing and resources required to fulfill researcher requests, licensing fees are nothing more than an attempt to profit from public records and restrict their usage.
No restrictions or licensing fees should be placed on the use of public records for personal, educational, scholarly, non-profit, or media purposes, period. Our public records are our collective history, and no government agency should be in the business of holding our history hostage.
I urge you to withdraw these proposed changes in full.
While I understand and support the need to pay reasonable fees for the reproduction of records I object to the changes the could limit my rights to use and share public records.
I have ancestors who entered the US through New York, as do many others. Being able to access their records is highly important to me. Being able to share those records with my family and other researchers is also highly important. Paying fees to get the records is acceptable, as I know it takes time and resources to do so, and I hope those fees help fund public access to even more public records.
Applying licensing fees with a broad brushstroke severely limits the usefulness of these records. If I find a vital record for my ancestor, does it mean I will be unable to share that with my family? Will licensing fees be prohibitively expensive to sharing this information? Will I be unable to post it to my online family tree? Will I be unable to include it in a self published family history book to share with my relatives?
Please consider your wording carefully, and keep public records available to the public for non-commercial uses at reasonable costs.
Shannon S. Christmas
Discontinue all licensing fees for public records created with taxpayer funds. The practice is unjust, unsound, and unacceptable.
One can require reasonable fees for acquiring copies of materials without instituting rules that limit an individual or non-profit organization’s rights to share and use those records. Let public record researchers freely share their findings. Let the the public’s consciousness, the community’s understanding of one’s fellow man and woman, rise with the tide of knowledge.
Public records are just that – public. Copying fees are reasonable but not restrictions on how those documents will be privately used. The idea of a license for educational, scholarly, non-profit, and media use is totally absurd and unenforceable. It is also a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. Educators and scholars (genealogists are included in both categories) should be able to use these records freely. Anything else is an infringement of our rights of free speech.
Donna J Goldstein
While I understand the need to pay a reasonable fee for the reproduction of a record, I strongly object to policies that limit our rights to use and share these PUBLIC records. Please reconsider!
Debra Van Briesen
I want to say I am against this amendment. As a private person interested in finding my own genealogy, the private use portion as well as the licensing portion would make it very difficult for anyone in lineage societies. It is bad enough that I must purchase a public record from your state without being able to see it first to know whether it is the correct record or not, but now there will be further restrictions? These are public records I realize there may need to be a cost if copies need to be made, but if they are digitized even that seems a little ridiculous. Putting further restrictions on this,seems very out of touch with what is happening in other states. It is hard enough tracing ancestry without adding more roadblocks.
If you do this, you are punishing anyone who needs to access that information. NYC’s/DORIS’s greed is eclipsing the people’s rights, as well as fundamental human decency. These records belong to the PEOPLE. YOU ARE CAPITALIZING ON OUR STORIES, for which you DO NOT OWN THE RIGHTS. You are KIDNAPPING our records and our histories AND DEMANDING A RANSOM. This is BLATANT BREACH of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). You are EXTORTING the public to access records that belong to WE THE PEOPLE. We have the right to know our heritage, to map our ancestors’ journeys. These are the stories that, woven together, form the tapestry of American and World cultural history. By imposing these restrictions and fees, you are robbing the general public of their right to know and carry the legacies of this information.
In this country, of all places, public records should be public and freely accessible at a cost no greater than the expense of providing them.
I’m appalled by these new rules. In researching my husband’s family, I’ve used many records from your archives. As written, the new rules limit individual use of these records: “Reproductions are provided for the researcher’s personal use only. Reproductions may not be reduplicated, published, or transferred to another individual or institution.” Apparently, I would be unable to publish any of these records in a history of my husband’s family. I would be unable to link images of these records to an online family tree. That’s unreasonable; these are public records.
I live in Iowa and have traveled to NYC for many years and have spent countless hours in the Municipal Archives researching records. My family came to NYC in the late 1700’s, living there until the middle of the last century, thus leaving a paper trail of over two centuries, a significant number of which I have found in the Archives. I have paid the fee the obtain these records and share these findings with my family. The thought I would have to pay additional fees seems not only unfair but vigorous in nature. I have researched in other states and have never encountered this type of proposed fee. Many of those records are now digitized and online and are freely accessible. It would seem NY is behind the curve in this regard. I spend money in my travels to NYC, and if I had to pay even more for what I consider records in the public domain, it would not be worth the trip. NYC would lose money. I understand that there must be a nominal fee for the time staff spends retrieving documents, but this proposal for additional fees is exploitive and counter-intuitive to a welcoming atmosphere to a city that encourages tourism. NYC is far behind the times indexing and imaging the records that could, and should be, provided digitally and free of charge. This proposal would insult to injury.
I can trace my family’s NYS and NYC lineage going back as far as the time of the Revolution. This information would have been impossible to obtain if access and/or onerous fees were levied on the archival materials that allowed me or those working for me to discover important documents. Those of us who do this research illuminate the past, not only for ourselves, but also for NYC itself. Our ancestors lived, worked, raised their families and built NYC before they passed into the pages of history. The history we, many NYC generations later, are trying to uncover and, which are only possible through the materials in question. Please to not act as an impediment to our search. Thank you.
Marianna G Stubbs
fees fees fees…. sure looks like greed greed greed. Public records should be just that….. public for all to use.
I am a Doctoral History student at Liberty University and am specializing in Colonial New York history. As part of my research I engage in a lot of Family history writing. Any increase in fees would significantly impact my ability to continue my research in this field. You must consider academic research apart from other forms at a minimum for free access.
Thanks, Dennis Rees
The vital records of New York City must remain available without encumbrances such are licensing fees and prohibitions against sharing documents with family members and others who are researching family history. DORIS should be putting their efforts into facilitating access and use of records by genealogists and historians not building further roadblocks. I urge you to keep public access to public records with few if any restrictions . I urge you to reject the proposed limitations to access to these records
Public records supported through public taxes should be accessible by the public and not through the charging of exorbitant fees.
Please clarify the wording in your rules requiring licensing fees for their use. It is fair to require a reasonable fee for its reproduction, but not fair to limit its use by the purchaser. I often purchase records and then share them with family members. As now written, the rules may be interpreted that I pay for each and every family member that I share that record with, which I find unacceptable and prohibitive in finding out more about my New York ancestors.
Please clarify the wording in the rules so that it will be easier for us to understand our past and share it with family and friends. “Those who do cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Kathy Van Ness
I urge the Department to keep public records accessible without a licensing fee. My family came to New Amsterdam in the early 1620s, almost 400 years ago. As a trained historian and an aspiring genealogist, the records have been very valuable in understanding my family’s social and political environment. Of particular interest to me is how immigrants of different nationalities and races lived in this amazing colony and in how the early history contributed to New York City’s development. Please keep the records easily accessible for the sake of the descendants of other settlers and for historians exploring the City’s past. Thank you.
As a 71 year old native New Yorker, I continue to be appalled at the Municipal Archives’ continuing efforts to extract money from its residents to obtain PUBLIC RECORDS created by taxpayer funds. Shame on you. This is NOT government FOR the people.
I cannot help but echo the comments of other family genealogists. These exorbitant fees and costs layered upon costs will make research prohibitive for many seniors such as myself to purchase records and share them with our families and genealogical websites. Many of us already face challenges locating resources as it is. Now with a worldwide pandemic I will not be traveling to New York in an attempt to obtain my family records of immigration, business and residence documentation.
The are PUBLIC not private records owned by the City of New York. These are records housed by the New York City Municipal Archives.
Understandably there are fees needed for management and research but these fees go far beyond the reasonable.
Martha Eddy, CMA, EdD
I urge you to withdraw the proposed changes about the Municipal Archives. They are public. Please keep them that way. As a scholar, I will need access for the books I am writing.
Please maintain unrestricted access to public records, which are now and should remain just that. PUBLIC.
A J Aiseirithe
This is a sad step backward for New York. It tells the world that New York does not support an informed citizenry who would know their past and hold their government accountable. The records are public. They are not to be privatized or restricted. The future we all want for ourselves and our posterity requires that these records remain freely available to all. Don’t make us native New Yorkers ashamed of our city.
John H Moore
I am writing regarding the recently proposed licensing fees for New York City public records for educational, scholarly, non-profit and media use.
While I understand the need to pay a reasonable fee for the reproduction of a record, I strongly object to any language that even hints at limitations on the rights to use and share these public records.
As an amateur genealogist and historian, these records have proved vital to me in building my family story – which dates back to the founding of New Netherland in the early 1600s. Any limitations on the right to use these records would place an undue legal and financial burden on my work.
It is not clear if personal usage of a vital record certificate is at risk beyond its purchase & use by one person. As written, “Reproductions may not be reduplicated, published, or transferred to another individual or institution.” The rules require a license for educational, scholarly, non-profit & media use. Genealogists are educators and scholars. Many, if not most, genealogists are private individuals researching their own families. They wish to share their discoveries with relatives and search for new possible relatives by posting information on family trees and other online or offline platforms. They are not doing this for money, and they should not be threatened for sharing information with other individuals.
Theresa McKeon Griffin and Dale Edwin Griffin
Our Irish, English and Scots families immigrated to and lived in New York for many decades before moving to Pennsylvania and Virginia. My husband’s family member, Edward Griffin, was a signer of the Flushing Remonstrance; he also had two great grand uncles who served and lost their lives in the Revolutionary War.
These records are important to us as we have just started finding lost family members and we are distressed to find that the state of New York is using our ancestor’s records to be used to raise money for the state. It is not unfair to charge family members, whose ancestors created the records, for a copy of the documents but charging a licensing fee is unconscionable.
This is taking advantage of a class of people whose family members created those records. The cost of reproducing and storing these documents has already been paid for by the people. Putting a surtax on viewing them is patently inconsiderate, incorrect and unfair.
We urge you to withdraw this poorly written regulation.
Dale and Theresa Griffin
Our Irish, English and Scots families immigrated to and lived in New York for many decades before moving to Pennsylvania and Virginia. My husband’s family member, Edward Griffin, was a signer of the Flushing Remonstrance; he also had two great grand uncles who served and lost their lives in the Revolutionary War.
These records are important to us as we have just started finding lost family members and we are distressed to find that the state of New York is using our ancestor’s records to be used to raise money for the state. It is not unfair to charge family members, whose ancestors created the records, for a copy of the documents but charging a licensing fee is unconscionable.
This is taking advantage of a class of people whose family members created those records. The cost of reproducing and storing these documents has already been paid for by the people. Putting a surtax on viewing them is patently inconsiderate, incorrect and unfair.
We urge you to withdraw this poorly written regulation.
Half of my family has roots in New York and NYC. To charge a licensing fee to the public for research is not a reasonable action. Not only should this be prohibited from occurring but the wording of the proposed update to the Rules of the Department of Records and Information Services should be changed immediately, before a decision is made, to remove any verbiage about a license fee to the public.
Patricia E. Meyer
I am a family genealogist. Please reconsider the fees and charges you are changing. I do not oppose a modest fee in exchange for services. However, as these are public records, I do not believe it would be in the interest of imposing expensive fees on top of what already is being charged.
I became involved in genealogy to learn about my family history. There are professionals who do the footwork to help others breaking down their brick walls.
These are public records and although I can accept a nominal fee to process the documents there shouldn’t be any additional fees. We should all have access to information about our families.
The Municipal Archives have been a gold mine for me in finding records. My family was residing in NYC since before records were recorded.
Genealogy is not an inexpensive hobby. Why do you want to make this process financially unaffordable? Please reconsider.
Frank Van Orden
I am very much opposed to restrictions on public records for New York, and support free access to these records. They are essential to genealogy.
frank Van Orden
I am very much opposed to restrictions on public records. These records are essential to genealogists ans should be readily accessible to all.
Please stop putting restrictions and fees on basic PUBLIC records. In this digital age – there should be no need to have heavy operational costs for things like this and they should be readily available anywhere. Those of us who look at these records are putting together puzzles of our family’s past and often for family’s of friends and there should be no reason why these costs should be placed on us. Please rethink this process and help FREE THE RECORDS MORE!!! How about you charge for RUSH orders and charge 20 bucks total for a rush package but not for the standard long time frames. Please don’t punish us for this.
Public records are just that – PUBLIC – and belong to all of us and must remain accessible. What is being proposed is a travesty. This is one more example of privatizing services- a great Republican style tactic.Comment attachment
Everyone interested in his/her own family should be able to obtain such records. And such items should be allowed to be shared with other relatives.
Stop interfering with access to items in the public domain.
Karen L Fuller
I strongly disagree with the proposed changes. Our taxes are the reason these records exist at all. I have been attempting to find records for many of my long-deceased relatives, and access to them is one of the only ways I will be able to prove their existence. Many early records have been destroyed through neglect or accident. I am not a professional who can afford to pay for searches. Often, names were misspelled or hard to read and it can take hours poring through documents to figure out how to match a record to the correct individual. The lack of access to many NY records to date is frustrating. This appears to be nothing more than an attempt to try to bleed more money from the public when we should have free access to the documents we rightfully should own. There are medical and legal reasons for being able to readily access these documents without having to pay ridiculous sums. If I am looking for the only document that exists for my great great grandmother and it is the only way to prove we are related, it is a real Catch-22 situation if I have to prove my relationship in order to gain access. And pay a fee on top of that.
While I understand the need to pay a reasonable fee for the reproduction of a record, I strongly object to any language that even hints at limitations on our rights to use and share these public records. These records are public and need to remain free without any charges or fees.
This proposed rule should be withdrawn. Thank you.
Your statement that “the proposed rule may be confusing and we will ensure that the final rule clarifies this matter before it is published” defies reason. If the proposed rule is “confusing”, then you have an OBLIGATION to UN-confuse it and put the “clarified” rule out for public comment.
To NOT allow the public to comment on the FINAL rule is an ABANDONMENT of your purpose to “serve” the public. PLEASE retract the previous “confusing” rule and do what you know is right.
As a genealogist who has many relatives from the great state of New York, I would like to say that I am not on board with paying a fee for records AND having to pay for a license. Plus not being able to share the record? I don’t know what that trust us we’ll fix it part of the rule is going to say, and New York City rulemaking procedures don’t give us a chance to be heard again after the final rule version is disclosed. Please get it together on this for the sake of history. Our ancestors are counting on you!
As a professional genealogist with over 30 years of experience I must strongly disagree with and oppose this proposed action. Correct interpretation of ones ancestral lines depends upon a precise and careful examination of any applicable original documents, either in person, or by accessing by way of a source reference that appears in a published book, journal, Internet compilation or other reference. This is the primary reason for the need to examine images of original documents — not to use them for any financial benefit. These are not priceless museum treasures that can be copied and sold for profit. There is no market for them. These are simply public records and should continue to be available to the public at no charge, except for photocopying. A nominal additional fee for certification can continue easily to cover any document copies that are required for specific legal reasons.
It is unconscionable for the city of New York to charge additional fees beyond the current one-time fee for a record held in its archives. DORIS is a government entity established to serve the public interest and is supported by taxpayer dollars. In exchange, DORIS is entrusted to hold and preserve public records and upon request to make available to the public copies of these records without additional monetary encumbrances.
Only individuals, private businesses, and corporations are entitled by law to hold copyright, intellectual property rights or trademark rights and for that reason may charge use fees and licensing fees to protect THEIR PRIVATE PROPERTY from abuse. DORIS fits none of these categories. Yet by proposing to levy use fees and licensing fees, the City of NY is knowingly and falsely claiming rights for which it has no legal standing. Its proposed actions amount to criminal conduct.
Robert J. Friedman
The Proposed Rule purports to enable public access to Municipal Archives and Library materials and to account for the use of digital technologies in completing reproduction requests. The proposal does just the opposite.
Senior Counsel Steven Goulden, Division of Legal Counsel, NYC Law Department, certified that the proposed rule “is not in conflict with other applicable rules.” Francisco X. Navarro, NYC Mayor’s Office of Operations, certified that the proposed rule “minimizes compliance costs for the discrete regulated community or communities consistent with achieving the stated purpose of the rule.” Neither statement could be further from the truth.
Since October 15, 1982, The New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) §87(c) has prohibited State and local agencies from charging search or certification fees or more than $0.25 per photocopy (up to 9″x14″), except when specifically allowed by an act of the State Legislature. Similarly, for other records (such as those larger than 9″x14″ or bound in a volume than precludes photocopying) an agency may not charge more than the actual cost of reproduction unless specifically authorized by a statute.
Municipal laws, such as the sections of the City Charter cited by the Proposed Rule, are not statutes and therefore cannot override this provision. Both the existing fee schedule and the revised schedule contained in the Proposed Rule flagrantly violate FOIL §87(c).
Neither may an agency restrict how a record accessible under FOIL is used, or require that a requester demonstrate need or a legitimate purpose. These provisions apply to all such records maintained by or for an agency, regardless of who created the record. Therefore the proposed publication, license, and use fees in §2-06, the proposed restrictions on use of reproductions in §3-01(B)(2), and the proposed Publish/Use Contract in §3-01(B)(3) are all invalid under FOIL.
These regulations have been repeatedly upheld and clarified by the courts, as cited in many advisory opinions (AO) of the New York State Department of State Committee on Open Government (COOG).
For example, FOIL-AO-14966 (10/26/2004) stated that FOIL
pertains to all records of an agency, such as a county, and §86(4) defines the term ‘record’ to mean:
“any information kept, held, filed, produced, reproduced by, with or for an agency or the state legislature, in any physical form whatsoever including, but not limited to, reports, statements, examinations, memoranda, opinions, folders, files, books, manuals, pamphlets, forms, papers, designs, drawings, maps, photos, letters, microfilms, computer tapes or discs, rules, regulations or codes.”
…Article 57-A of the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law, the “Local Government Records Law.”…states that:
“Record” means any book, paper, map, photograph, or other information-recording device, regardless of physical form or characteristic, that is made, produced, executed, or received by any local government or officer thereof pursuant to law or in connection with the transaction of public business. Record as used herein shall not be deemed to include library materials, extra copies of documents created only for convenience of reference, and stocks of publications.
…[T]he Court of Appeals has construed the definition of “record” for the purposes of the Freedom of
Information Law as broadly as its specific language suggests….[In] Westchester Rockland Newspapers v. Kimball, 50 NY2d 575, 581 (1980)…the Court determined that:
“The statutory definition of ‘record’ makes nothing turn on the purpose for which it relates. This conclusion accords with the spirit as well as the letter of the statute.”
In a decision involving records prepared by corporate boards furnished voluntarily to a state agency, the Court of Appeals reversed a finding that the documents were not “records,” thereby rejecting a claim that the documents “were the private property of the intervenors, voluntarily put in the respondents’ ‘custody’ for convenience under a promise of confidentiality” [Washington Post v. Insurance Department, 61 NY 2d 557, 564 (1984)]. Once again, the Court relied upon the definition of “record” and reiterated that the purpose for which a document was prepared or the function to
which it relates are irrelevant.
…[O]nce a record is maintained by or for an agency, there can be no restriction on its
use. As a general matter, when records are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law, it has been held that they must be made equally available to any person, regardless of one’s status, interest or the intended use of the records [see Burke v. Yudelson, 368 NYS 2d 779, aff’d 51 AD 2d 673, 378 NYS 2d 165 (1976)]. Moreover, the Court of Appeals has held that:
“FOIL does not require that the party requesting records make any showing of need, good faith or legitimate purpose; while its purpose may be to shed light on government decision-making, its ambit is not confined to records actually used in the decision-making process. (Matter of Westchester Rockland Newspapers v. Kimball, 50 NY2d 575, 581.) Full disclosure by public agencies is, under FOIL, a public right and in the public interest, irrespective of the status or need of the person making the request” [Farbman v. New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, 62 NY 2d 75, 80 (1984)].
…[U]nless there is a basis for withholding records in accordance with the grounds for denial
appearing in §87(2), the use of the records…is in my opinion irrelevant.
…[P]rior to October 15, 1982, a local law, an ordinance, or a regulation for instance, establishing a search fee or a fee in excess of twenty-five cents per photocopy or higher than the actual cost of reproduction was valid. However, under the amendment [to FOIL §87(1)(b)(iii) in Chapter 73 of the Laws of 1982], only an act of the State Legislature, a statute, would in my view permit the assessment of a fee higher than twenty-five cents per photocopy, a fee that exceeds the actual cost of reproducing records that cannot be photocopied, (i.e., electronic information), or any other fee, such as a fee for search or overhead costs.
Most significantly, it has been confirmed judicially that fees inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Law may be validly charged only when the authority to do so is conferred by a state statute [see Sheehan v. City of Syracuse, 521 NYS 2d 207 (1987)]. In another decision on the matter involved a provision in the Suffolk County Code that established a fee of twenty dollars for photocopies of police reports [Gandin, Schotsky & Rappaport v. Suffolk County, 640 NYS2d 214, 226 AD2d 339 (1996)]. The Appellate Division unanimously determined that the provision in the
County Code was invalid. In short, it was determined an enactment of a municipal body is not a statute, and the County was restricted to charging a fee of twenty-five cents per photocopy for the records at issue.
…The regulations promulgated by the Committee [on Open Government] state in relevant part that:
“Except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute:
(a) There shall be no fee charged for the following:
(1) inspection of records;
(2) search for records; or
(3) any certification pursuant to this Part (21 NYCRR §1401.8).”
Based upon the foregoing, the fee for reproducing electronic information ordinarily would involve the cost of computer time, plus the cost of an information storage medium (i.e., a computer tape or disk) to which data is transferred.
Although compliance with the Freedom of Information Law involves the use of public employees’ time and perhaps other costs, the Court of Appeals has found that the Law is not intended to be given effect “on a cost-accounting basis”, but rather that “Meeting the public’s legitimate right of access to information concerning government is fulfillment of a governmental obligation, not the gift of, or waste of, public funds” [Doolan v. BOCES, 48 NY 2d 341, 347 (1979)].
…§84 of the Freedom of Information Law, the statement of legislative intent, indicates that state and local government agencies are required to make records available “wherever and whenever feasible.” From my perspective, if unnecessarily increasing a fee results in a lesser opportunity for members of the public to gain access to records, such an action would tend to defeat the intent of the law.
FOIL-AO-18666 (9/8/2011) updated COOG’s advisory opinions on fees:
In August of 2008 the Freedom of Information Law was amended to include new parameters for calculating the “actual cost of reproducing” records other than paper copies not in excess of nine by fourteen inches. When it takes an agency employee more than 2 hours to prepare such record, a new §87(1)(c) permits the agency to establish a fee based on the hourly wage of the lowest paid employee capable of preparing the record, multiplied by the number of hours the employee spends preparing the record, and the cost of the storage device or media provided to the applicant, or, when the agency does not have adequate information technology equipment to prepare a copy, the actual cost of engaging an outside professional service.
…If it is necessary, for example, for an employee to spend more than two hours culling requested data from an electronic information system, in our opinion, the agency could charge for the salary of the lowest paid employee capable of performing such work. Similarly, if it takes an employee more than two hours to scan paper records into electronic images, it is our opinion that an agency could charge for the salary of the lowest paid employee capable of scanning the records to provide them electronically.
When preparation of a paper record in excess of nine by fourteen inches or an electronic record requires less than two hours time, the agency is permitted to charge only the actual cost of the storage devices or media provided to the applicant.
…i[f] the list [of real estate licenses]…is available in electronic format, and if it can be transmitted via email… it should be made available to you free of charge, for it takes less than two hours employee time to prepare.
FOIL-AO-18965 (9/4/2012) addressed scanning fees:
The issue involves the ability of the Town to charge 25 cents per page for scanning paper documents and transmitting them via email in response to a FOIL request.
In this regard, first, neither the language of FOIL nor judicial precedent has focused on issues relating to scanning. This office has advised that if it is no more labor intensive to scan than to photocopy, a court would likely require an agency to scan. In that instance, if the scanned materials are emailed to an applicant and the task of scanning involved less than two hours, in our view, no fee may be assessed. If, on the other hand, it is more labor intensive to scan than to photocopy, i.e., because the document is in a bound volume, staples must be removed, redactions can be made prior to disclosure, it has been advised that an agency is not required to scan. In that circumstance, if photocopies are made, the agency may charge up to 25 cents per photocopy up to 9 by 14 inches.
This opinion is restated on COOG’s web site under Frequently Asked Questions (https://www.dos.ny.gov/coog/freedomfaq.html#scan : accessed 22 Oct 2020):
Must an agency scan records in response to a request?
It is our view that if an agency has the ability to scan records in order to transmit them via email and doing so will not involve any effort additional to an alternative method of responding, it is required to do so. For example, when copy machines are equipped with scanning technology that can create electronic copies of records as easily as paper copies, and the agency would not be required to perform any additional task in order to create an electronic record as opposed to a paper copy, we believe that the agency is required to do so. In that instance, transferring a paper record into electronic format would eliminate any need to collect and account for money owed or paid for preparing paper copies, as well as tasks that would otherwise be carried out. In addition, when a paper record is converted into a digital image, it remains available in electronic format for future use.
In sum, when an agency has the technology to scan a record without an effort additional to responding to a request in a different manner, and a request is made to supply the record via email, in our opinion, the agency must do so to comply with the Freedom of Information Law.
FOIL-AO-19736 (6/10/2019) addressed certification fees:
…FOIL indicates that person in receipt of a copy of record may ask that the agency certify to the correctness of the copy [§89(3)(a)]. The certification does not involve the accuracy of the content of a record, but rather an assertion that a copy furnished is a true copy of the record maintained by the agency. The regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government, which have the force and effect of law, specify that no fee may be charged for the certification that a record is a true copy [21 NYCRR §1401.8(a)(4)].
…If a person requests a photocopy of an existing record and does not ask that the record be certified in the manner described in the preceding paragraph [with a raised seal and signature], I believe that the fee would be limited to twenty-five cents.
FOIL-AO-16494 (3/13/2007) addressed copyright issues at length. Its salient points were:
• A school district that videotaped open meetings of its board of education could not require written permission to air or rebroadcast such tapes.
• The State Department of Transportation could not charge royalties for use of its maps because they were records already paid for with tax dollars, and additional fees would be financially damaging to companies wishing to use them.
• The public good is best served when records are disclosed as widely as possible and without impediment. Records should be made “equally available to any person, notwithstanding status or interest.”
• The fact that an individual or entity may obtain income from an activity that serves a public purpose does not negate the public nature of the activity. When a commercial publisher disseminates public information, it is serving a public purpose that is a central justification for FOIL.
• The U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the purpose of the Constitution’s copyright clause (“to promote the progress of science and useful arts”) is to encourage individual effort by personal gain as the best way to advance public welfare through the talents of authors and inventors.
• An agency that creates records as a statutory obligation has no “commercial interest” in preparing them, and assertion of copyright by that agency is contrary to the intent of both the FOIL and the Copyright Act.
• The imposition of royalties or similar fees for public records is contrary to the interest of the State in economic growth. On the one hand, fees inhibit companies by raising their cost of doing business, while on the other, if companies could obtain records at cost, the increase in tax revenues generated by new jobs would outweigh the income an agency could derive from fees.
• Copyright protection may validly be claimed for works of artistic creativity and academic or scientific research, such as products developed by Department of Health laboratories or the State University.
FOIL-AO-15695 (12/19/2005) and FOIL-AO-18556 (7/6/2011) have similar language:
… [W]hen materials are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law, upon receipt of the appropriate fee, they must be released to the applicant without restriction. Accordingly, in keeping with the Second Circuit decision [County of Suffolk v. First American Real Estate, 261 F.3d 179, 187 (2nd Cir. 2001)], we advise that it is permissible for the County to notify the applicant that the materials may be subject to copyright protection, but that the County cannot condition access on a contractual obligation pertaining to redisclosure of records accessible to any member of the public.
… [R]ecords bearing a copyright could not be characterized as being “specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.”
In conclusion: this Proposed Rule must be withdrawn in its entirety, and a new Proposed Rule must be drafted that complies with applicable State and Federal laws, including, but not limited to, the New York State Freedom of Information Law and the U.S. Copyright Act.
Charging for public records obviously limits our citizenship right of access. Furthermore, taxpayers voluntarily spend a multitude of hours researching histories and public records to provide historically important information for future generations.
Essentially the archive of Public Records is equivalent to the vast collection of property held by the the New York Public Library. Accessibility & utility are key to both “collections” of public property & the state is simply the guardian of these collections. Fees required to copy, etc should be expected, but certainly not revenue generating fees for something the public taxes already funds!
I am a genealogist that researches family history for educators, individual, and families. The proposed fees for licensing the usage of documents is unclear, confusing, and will block the usage of these documents by the people who are interested in them — the creators’ descendants. These are public documents and it’s your job to make them available to us, not restrict usage and thus bury history. I am not in favor of these proposed changes. Thank you for reconsidering.
Jeanne Diane Thompson
Left an orphan at birth, I have spent 20 years looking for and finding members of my ancestry, all the way back to King Charlemagne of England. Had it not been for accessible public records available for cost, I would have never known any of it. I humbly suggest that New York City find another way to raise money. These records are PUBLIC, and that means no license nor fee other than cost should be required to access them. Genealogists everywhere need access to public records at the time they need them, not after NYC decides to feign compliance for months and months.
Jeanne Diane Thompson
Please add to my earlier comment: I may have been successful with my mother’s side, but my father’s side is still a blank slate. I need the records in NYC to be available to me without the red tape now proposed.
I am a professional genealogist from the Netherlands. I object to the idea that we should pay for reusing the public records on the NYMCA website.
I am a professional user of the New Netherland records that have been scanned and made available online. That project was partially funded by the government of the Netherlands, so my taxes already paid to have these scans made.
Since these records are in the public domain, there is no legal reason why I should not be allowed to use them in any way I see fit, including commercially.
Yes, what they (above) said: There are so many important reasons (legal, social, and cultural) that you should not restrict access to public records. They contain truth, to the extent we know it. These records bear on our future in many ways. And they should be available to the people who funded their collection.
I am a genealogist who has been researching in New York records for over ten years and I disagree with the proposed changes. We expect to pay a reasonable fee for public records. However, no restrictions or licensing fees should be placed on the use of public records for personal, educational, scholarly, non-profit, or media purposes.
Public records created by taxpayer funds should be freely accessible.
Linda S Johnson
To Whom It May Concern….and it concerns us all:
After carefully considering the proposals set forth by The Department of Records Information Services to update rules for access to Municipal Archives, Library materials in general, and guidelines for access to special collections, I have come to the conclusion that these proposals are presented for the sole purpose of raising revenue for New York City itself and has nothing to do with protecting the confidentiality of persons named in public records. Furthermore, the cost of using digital technologies has not risen to the point of having to charge higher fees in completing reproduction requests.
I use myself as an example. In June of this year, I placed an order for 10 birth and death records of ancestors and distant cousins from New York. I wrote a check in the amount of $220.00, as each request was $22. The check was cashed in July. To this date, I have NOT received one certificate; four months later. I can guarantee, though, that the City of New York has used my $220.00 for however it sees fit. I have received no goods or services.
Attempting to restrict access to public records by making them more expensive to request, and to restrict family researchers from accessing vital documents of their family and health history, is a violation of our First Amendment rights, the Freedom of Speech. We are entitled to seek information about our relatives and disseminate this information however we choose. The implementation of restrictive fees prevents many of us from properly researching and providing valuable history, with much of that history submitted to genealogical and professional organizations.
How are professional researchers going to continue their services to others? How are “ordinary” researchers, like me, going to afford such fees, especially because of job layoffs due to COVID19? This country has been in crisis since early March and people have been forced to give up so much of their lives, some to the point of suicide. Why is it so important to raise fees and add to the financial hardships of so many people? To fill the coffers of a city that has spent too much money in the first place? To give staff raises just for making copies that arrive months later, or take the “burden” off of them for doing their jobs? If employees have grown weary of making copies, researching vital records, duplicating material or media, and so on, why not find another position?
If you are serious about these changes, ask yourself what they are really for. What is the true justification? I have found in my lifetime that the only reason for raising prices on anything is to make more money; greed. The increased fees do not guarantee improved services, clearer communication, better quality products, and decreased time in producing those products. Asking for more money adds up to one thing: more money in someone else’s pockets. There is no consideration for the consumer in how that money will be spent and utilized.
It’s well-known that New York State (including NYC) is a black hole for genealogists and family historians. My father is from New Hampshire and his side of my family tree has over 6000+ names, including Revolutionary War soldiers, victims of the witch persecutions, and countless other patriots and hard-working Americans. My mother’s side has a few hundred names, despited the fact I’ve been researching both sides for 20 years now. The primary difference between the two? Access to records from the different regions. Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine understand the importance (and RIGHTS) of citizens to access PUBLIC records. I feel that those of us who CARE ENOUGH to preserve our ancestors’ and therefore our nation’s history should not be hindered in doing so. I strongly urge you to reconsider the imposition of any excessive fees and restrictions. Thank you for your attention in this matter.
I am opposed to restrictions and additional fees being added onto public records.
The public should have free and easy access to public records. Period.
Stop it. Just stop it. Vital records are public records, and should remain that way. There should be no requirement to pay for a record of someone’s relative. For goodness’ sake, genealogy is a big deal in this city, state, and country. Records can be hard enough to find; don’t make it harder!
Rosemarie Pollock Neville
Public records should remain public and available to anyone who does research. I am the family historian and share what I find with family members. To add additional fees for copies Of PUBLIC records is ridiculous.
I disagree with the proposition that DORIS charge licensing fees for vital records. I understand the fees for research, sending and making copies but these are public records. Public records should be accessible to the public. I agree that vital records should have a time-frame for release as the United States Census has the ’72 year rule” for privacy reasons.
If NYC thinks it would be generating revenue by charging licensing fees it will not. More employees would be required to monitor, take legal action etc. The fees would effect academics, historians, genealogists and family historians, and would stop their research. If I wanted to publish a family history and had to pay NYC to include my grandparents marriage certificate is unfair.
The federal government allows release of documents via FOIA. The census is released every 72 years. The government is supported by tax payers, why should more be paid for information.
We learn from our history, if we cannot access or cannot afford to access it what will we learn.
I am a professional genealogist and a member of the lineage society Daughters of the American Revolution. Since New York City was the gateway to the United States for so many immigrants, these *public* records provide important details to thousands of American stories that have yet to be told.
I am not against a reasonable fee for services rendered when obtaining copies, but I disagree with the concept of licensing public records, much less charging fees for it.
Brooke Schreier Ganz, on behalf of the non-profit organization Reclaim The Records
Reclaim The Records will choose to respond to DORIS’ ridiculous and blatantly illegal attempts to control and commoditize historical public records in our favorite and customary venue for dealing with the agency’s missteps: a court of law.
Public Records, are just that, and need to be available to the public. Licensing fees that will affect the way people can use them is ridiculous. It is obstruction and history should not be obstructed or cost a fortune to obtain, especially public records. If records become inaccessible, how are people (historians, genealogists, and students, amongst others) supposed to learn the history that came before them? The proposal is not reasonable, and should not be supported.
I hope the papers are digitized and opened to the public. I am one that cannot afford the research fees some counties charge. Public records are sacred…and PUBLIC. Thank you.
I fully understand the need to charge a reasonable fee for the copying and dissemination of a record. That being said, attempting to charge a licensing fee for public records is ridiculous. Your department is supposed to be the guardian of these records, not the owner. As it stands, the Archives have continually imposed restrictions on access to these records. They have prohibited researchers from photographing vital records in-house. Additionally, they insisted that Family Search remove access to films of vital records from affiliate libraries and made them unavailable for home viewing (which is particularly onerous given our current situation during the pandemic). I find all of this even more egregious when you consider the number of genealogical volunteers that have indexed these records, enabling your staff to reduce the work necessary to charge people for these records.
I also object strongly to the section prohibiting the “transfer” of documents. Again, these vital records are part of our history, not just NYC’s history.
As a genealogist who has used your facility, recommended your facility to other researchers and highlighted your record sets in my presentations I am strongly opposed to the licensing fee. Clearly this is a shortsighted attempt to extract additional money from the people who use your facility. I was under the impression that archives were the guardians of records and not the owners, the owners being the public at large. Non-profit, scholarly and educational groups are the people who extoll the virtues of your facility and holdings, they encourage others to use the your records, thus creating new customers which means additional revenue. Clearly the fee is nothing more than additional tax above the fee charged for reproducing the record, which I find reasonable and gladly pay.
Arthur R. Blazer
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I’ll state my objection to your proposed rule change (Amendment of Rules Relating to Municipal Archives and Municipal Reference Library) very simply. How can you have the audacity to charge multiple times for the same record? And these are supposed to be public records.
I understand there is a cost involved in printing and/or mailing a hard copy of any record – but there is no cost to you when someone accesses that record on line or after someone pays you for that first copy and that person assumes the cost of making any future copies.
To charge multiple times then for a genealogist to include that record in his/her family tree is therefore nothing less than outrageous.
Arthur R. Blazer
Susan R Miller
I made the following comment during the live hearing (may not exactly but this is what I read from). The numbers are my practice time marks:
Hello, my name is Susan R. Miller, and I am the Director of Programs for the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. My comments relate to the proposed rule as written, not to any verbal or other comments on the proposed rule.
And speaking of comments, why are comment submissions closed on the rules website? My calendar says today is October 23. No indication was made that website comment close before 9:38 am on Oct. 23 (when I last checked). October 23, extents to 11:59 PM ET here.
Our organization produces educational and scholarly content for our members and for the public. Some content is accessible to members whose dues and contributions support these activities, some is freely available to the public.
We also receive and solicit educational and scholarly content (articles, blogs, presentations) from members of the genealogical and historical community.
Licensing records, such as
• birth, marriage, and death records
• Almshouse collections,
• the Bodies in Transit Registers,
• the “Booke of Deeds – Liber A” for early Queens land records,
• “Old Town Records”
all of which are important to scholars and educators,
are public records, and as such, should not be licensable.
These records were mostly created for governmental purposes, containing information items, columns of data, and the like. They are the business of the New York City government over centuries. Records held at the Archives inform us about New York City life and the history if it people
We use images of documents in live and pre-recorded lectures to educate our community and public in the access to and use of the information found in these records. Plus that education encourages people to use the archive and request copies of records for reproduction costs.
Requiring a license for using images of these documents raises a barrier, especially in time, for creators and publishers of educational content. See form MA-45 on that. Each permission that would have to be obtained adds several hours of work, in filing the forms, emailing the forms; receiving a reply (hours, days, weeks, or longer); payment of fees, check requests, approvals of the expense, coding and accounting for the organization’s financial reports (every $15+; filing of permissions, retention of those records).
All of which MAY cause people not to use and share their knowledge and discoveries. It is not just about whether a fee is $6, 11, 15 or $18—the process of having to ask permission is the biggest hurdle.
Please do not stifle the learning and enthusiasm that brings. Bottom line: we oppose any licensing for educational, scholarly, or not-for-profit use.
The preservation efforts by the NYC Municipal Archives are to be applauded, and those of us in the genealogical community have volunteered time indexing to make them more accessible. We extend an offer to discuss collaboration for future projects.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to getting back into the Archives for research.
B Douglas Conley
[Due to some technical glitches, I am submitting the full text of my comments made today, 23 Oct 2020, at the DORIS hearing.]
Hello, my name is B Douglas Conley and I have been a genealogist for the past thirty years in New York, and a professional for almost ten of those years as a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists-New York Chapter, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society and the National Genealogical Society, to name a few of my associations.
My concern is any impediment to the open-access of public domain city records, including the ability to self-copy from those records, which is the right of every resident of this city.
Most New Yorkers come to me after failing. They have failed to find their ancestors online at pay-sites, such as Ancestry, Findmypast, or any of the others. The reason for New Yorkers’ failed attempts is not due to a lack of commitment to the task. In many cases, their failures can be explained by their inexperience as researchers, but for a large number, they are due to their ancestors’ absence from the records with no immediate, clear explanation. Professional genealogists expect this, especially in a city where we have been counting our population in the millions for over a century, now. New York City has an enormous data group to manage. It is to the credit of the hard-working staff of the city’s archives, that we can find anything today. To help untangle this growing data group further, academics and professionals throughout the country now employ techniques that have become revitalized due to online digital content. But these innovative techniques are founded on one thing: open access and the ability to self-copy public domain documents. We self-copy because we need groups of documents numbering in the thousands, tens of thousands, or more, per project. If we are to successfully find our person in the records, we need large groups of copies we can access outside the archive’s regular hours of operation.
You can see what I’m getting at. The trends for successful genealogical research are already about more documents, not less. If any proposal took interest in modern genealogical practice, it would recommend a reduction of costs per page at the Municipal Archives, not an increase. And now that we all carry our own copy-center in our pocket, called the smart-phone, any visiting researcher to the Municipal Archives should be allowed to self-copy as many public domain documents as they need. In this way, more New Yorkers and their descendants could successfully search for and find the records of their missing family members. In such a future, I may encounter fewer failures desiring my assistance—but, that would be a good thing.
Therefore, the current DORIS proposal should be altered to encourage expanded use of public domain records in the archives by the people of this city without any financial increase that cripples their ability to succeed.
Thank you to DORIS and the New York City Municipal Archives for this opportunity to make a comment on their current proposal.
Genealogy Federation of Long Island
GFLI is an organization representing eleven non-profit groups including genealogical and historical societies, and public libraries. Our Members who extend across the United States and the world, as well as Long Island and New York City, have a common interest in the study and research of family history.
In 2019, we reached hundreds of thousands of researchers through public meetings, our websites, and educational programs.
The largest number of requests that GFLI member groups receive is for assistance with research for records from the Municipal Archives, in particular, vital records. Understanding this need for greater access, GFLI provided thousands of volunteers to index NYC vital records as well as additional finding aids for archival resources, which greatly benefited DORIS. With the digital index, we have enabled better vital records access to researchers worldwide, made it easier for them to request records, and have improved DORIS employee efficiency in the process.
In addition to the volunteer hours of transcribing work, GFLI spent many more hours raising the funds to support the work itself, including copies, paper, postage, and high-speed scanners to create the searchable databases. We then freely donated the indices back to the Archives. All we asked in return was affordable and timely access to the records.
The recent publication of DORIS’s rule change affecting personal use, licensing of archival resources, and licensing fees, was not welcomed by supporters of the archive and GFLI volunteers. Making the use of historical public records more restrictive and possibly unavailable for research purposes, or pricing the use of these materials beyond the means of many researchers, is in opposition to the spirit in which GFLI organized and donated their efforts over many years. If the public cannot easily access information contained in the records that the archive holds, and if we cannot share our findings, we cannot learn our essential family history. We find this unacceptable.
The GFLI, in coordination with other historical and genealogical organizations requests this rule proposal be withdrawn.
Thank you for letting us express our concerns and views for the benefit of all people, all races, all economic levels. We are happy to work with you going forward in making records more accessible to all.
I find the proposed rule change very disturbing. We are now going to have to pay a licensing fee for public records created with public tax dollars? Sounds absurd. For years the staff at the Municipal Archives have assisted private citizens unlock the history of their family history. The records are shared with the researchers with their family members and brings them joy. I believe this rule will disenfranchise the dedicated workers at the Archives as well. The proposal as written has not been well thought out or expressed. Please reconsider. Please study further. Please consider all your customers, especially the plain old members of the public. Thank you.
My name is Michael Cassara and I’m a professional genealogist, a New York City resident, and I currently serve as the co-President of the Italian Genealogical Group, a New York based organization that serves as the nation’s largest voice in Italian-American family history.
Within the IGG, we have a long history of working with the New York City Municipal Archives and we hope for that relationship to continue for years to come. However, we do not support illegal practices and unclear language. We were beyond alarmed when we received these proposed rule changes and fear they are indicative of a train that is heading in the absolute wrong direction.
Upon initial outcry, members of our organizations individually received communication stating “we have no plans to impose a license fee, or anything like that, for genealogy records.” Then we must ask for precision in language, and forethought in action. We are all here today because we are passionate about the indisputable fact that **public records are public**. We ask for DORIS to stop hiding behind the veil of privacy and protection – particularly for items where such claims are simply unsupportable.
Over the last 20 years, our organization – in conjunction with the GFLI, other groups, and utilizing 1000s of volunteers – began creating the first index for New York City vital records. These indices are still used by hundreds of people daily, and it is our understanding that DORIS’s own internal system – now linked to digital images – built directly upon our indices. We gave these freely to DORIS many years ago – because public records are public. We paid thousands of dollars for copies, shipping, CD-Rs, storage, and more – including a great deal directly to DORIS – but the output of our work was given freely, to be used freely.
With trust and collaboration, so much more could be completed. The Manhattan District Attorney indexes, a severely underused collection that could have been online years ago, could be transcribed and indexed. But we can’t help DORIS and work together unless we can build trust: establishing that our shared priority is for public records to be publicly accessible.
With the press of a button, DORIS could offer revolutionary and free (or nominal cost) access to large chunks of its awe-inspiring collections. Instead, genealogists worldwide have to battle and prod – finding work-around solutions – and, in so many cases, denying DORIS fair revenue it could easily have if it were just more proactive about its holdings.
New York public records are of interest to researchers and historians worldwide – and the more people know about them, the more paid requests your office will have. We don’t doubt that you have overhead and obligations. We also understand that the holdings within DORIS are massive – perhaps overwhelmingly so in comparison with its budgets and resources. However, the current actions do nothing but dissuade use.
Assistant Commissioner Cobb’s statements in this morning’s hearing *did* seem to echo many of the things we are saying – but, most unfortunately, these assurances do not line up with the actual written rules that are being proposed. As numerous colleagues mentioned when they spoke, this is our only chance to make our passionate feelings known – as we cannot be intuitive about how such rules may or may not be interpreted at a future date. The genealogical community has great potential to advocate and even advertise for DORIS. We’re ready to do that – but we need trust and clarity.
Alec Stephen Ferretti
An Ode to DORIS
There once was an archive called Muni,
At times they acted quite loony
So we saw them in court
They lacked a single retort
Summary judgement was quite a beauty
But the saga did not end there
All because DORIS just wouldn’t share
They tried to win on appeal
The whole thing was surreal
Yet for the city this was a nightmare
Then we finally came to a deal
A meeting, it seemed quite unreal
So we tried to make peace
Hoped the rancor would cease
If their rules they would simply repeal
Then the months and the months passed us by
We sat hanging around high and dry
Yet no changes were made
Our patience had frayed
Our lawyer received no reply
Then out of the blue one fine day
DORIS wrote a rule to our dismay
They were doubling down
Charging fees all around
Despite their attempts to downplay
They assumed this would all be routine
Yet we found it to be quite obscene
With no basis in law
So brazen I was in awe
That they thought they could pull this smokescreen
We eagerly penned our reactions
And to explain our dissatisfactions
On deaf ears they fall
DORIS is a free-for-all
Until we litigate their many infractions
I hope we don’t come down to that
I implore you to sit down and chat
Tho the line has been drawn
The end is not yet forgone
Follow the law and we’ll end this whole spat!
I suspect on this rule you won’t budgeComment attachment
Against us do you have some sort of grudge?
There are remedies of course
I have no remorse
So for better or worse, “Tell it to the judge!”
Philomena M Dunn
I am very opposed to licensing fees for public records. As they are public records, there should not be a licensing fee. Of course, a nominal fee for the staff time spent retrieving the document is understandable. The records should be index and digital and free of charge.
As a family genealogist, I find your proposed changes to obtaining public records onerous and counter-productive. Instead of putting roadblocks in the way of researchers or family members trying to obtain family records, your objective should be to assist people in obtaining public records.
All of my family has roots in New York City. Most of the documentation of my family history is in the New York City records. Increasing fees and requiring licenses is nonsense. It turns the City government against its own people. You need to reduce fees and do away with the additional burden of licenses .
I am a public employee of the State of California. One of my duties is to provide information to other public agencies as well as individuals. The information I gather and the analyses I perform are for the benefit of the people of the state and beyond. It is my duty to be as open and sharing as possible. Similarly, all sources of publicly acquired and maintained data must be made as accessible as possible. The proposed changes to fees and accessibility would place a hindrance upon that availability. The approach should be to enable as much access as possible. Often times the City of New York has worked against efforts to increase access. It has opposed the work of organizations such as “Reclaim the Records,” that have sought to share crucial data. I urge a reversal in attitude and intent, and the rejection of these proposed changes in favor of greater cooperation and accessibility.
Please see attached for my full public comment. Below is a condensed version:Comment attachment
As a regular user of archives in the United States, Germany and Italy, I am accustomed to rules designed to protect their unique historical records and to archival reproduction fees commensurate with the archives’ actual costs. These archives welcome researchers, however as a patron of the Municipal Archives of New York City I feel like DORIS looks at each potential visitor and researcher with a connection to New York City as an untapped source of revenue. This warped view of researchers leads to ill-advised policies such as the one that is being proposed here. The City of New York levies various taxes which are used to fund the operation of city agencies, which should include DORIS. As a resident and taxpayer in this City I would be happy, as I suspect many researchers would be, to support a campaign for the City to fully fund the mission and work of the archives. Perhaps in this alternate reality DORIS would be able to promote records access to the widest audience possible instead of artificially restricting access to the most used records to plug its budget hole. As part of this, DORIS has decided that vital records and property cards are different from the many other millions of pages of records it holds and therefore is proposing copying charges of $18 for each of these records. While I understand that this is consistent with past practices of the archives that does mean that this distinction is desirable nor legal. As should be clear from New York state statutes and as confirmed by recent Article 78 lawsuits against this City Agency, DORIS is fully subject to the New York State Freedom of Information Law. The New York State Archives themselves recognize that FOIL is applicable when they make copies of records as outlined in their copying fees schedule. DORIS’s rules reasonably propose a fee of $0.25 for paper printouts for photocopies and computer printouts and no charge for copies made with one’s own camera or other electronic device. DORIS however is drawing a distinction without a difference when it pretends that vital records can only be reproduced on paper or distributed via e-mail by a DORIS employee for the cost of $18.00. Those same records are available on computers or microfilms in the Municipal Archive’s reading room. As there is no distinction under FOIL these records should be able to be reproduced using the legal FOIL fee schedule, not at artificially inflated prices. Many of the vital records have been scanned in color in recent years. One of the benefits of this project is that it is now quicker and easier for the archives personnel to provide copies. How this instead leads to a cost increase is mystifying. Although the archives promised online access to these records that has not come to fruition. I strongly call on DORIS to follow the provisions of the Freedom of Information Law and the example set by the New York State Archives to allow free digital copying of records at the archives and reasonable prices for simple paper copies.
Mary Anne Grimes-Genet
No restrictions or licensing fees should be placed on the use of public records for personal, educational, scholarly, non-profit, or media purposes.
Public records created by taxpayer funds should be freely accessible.
Public records are public records and should be available to the public, not held hostage or restricted.