The California Supreme Court ruled that geographic information system database information is subject to public records laws.
Back in 2007, the Sierra Club requested a copy of what it thought was a public record from Orange County, California, covering information like the location and addresses of 640,000 land parcels in the county. The local government held the information in a geographic information system, or GIS database, a much more modern equivalent of the old spreadsheet, or the older-still stack of printed papers. In exchange for handing over a copy of the digital file, which can be used to map data, the county requested a $375,000 licensing fee.
As you can imagine, the Sierra Club balked – both at the price tag and the suggestion that this taxpayer-funded database of public information wasn't available under the state's open records law. Six years later, the California Supreme Court this week agreed with the Sierra Club [PDF] that digital mapping data is public data, too.
To underscore the strange nature of Orange County's logic, local officials had offered to hand over all of the information on printed paper. But they argued that GIS files were "computer software," and therefore exempt from the state records law (and open to a revenue stream that would help recoup the costs of maintaining the database).