Ramsey County District Court File No. 62-CV-12-4789
Daniel J. Herber, Nancy B. Hylden, Bruce G. Jones, Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)
Lori Swanson, Attorney General, James Patrick Barone, Assistant Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellants)
Connie Howard, Inter Faculty Organization, St. Paul, Minnesota (for intervenor) David M. Aron, Anne F. Kisnik, Education Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota (for amicus curiae)
Considered and decided by Bjorkman, Presiding Judge; Ross, Judge; and Kirk, Judge.
A state agency cannot rely on the Federal Copyright Act to refuse to disclose data that is the subject of a request for disclosure under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act after the district court determines, without dispute, that the requestor intends only "fair use" of the data as defined by the copyright act.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) requested copies of educational course syllabi maintained by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) under the force of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. MnSCU refused to provide the requested material, noting its faculty members' intellectual-property rights to it and citing the Federal Copyright Act. MnSCU appeals from the district court's order directing it to meet the NCTQ's data-practices request, arguing that requiring it to rely on the NCTQ's assertion that its use of the syllabi will qualify as "fair use" under the copyright act could subject MnSCU to copyright liability. Because MnSCU and its faculty do not contest the district court's holding that the NCTQ's proposed use constitutes fair use, we affirm.
In October 2011 the NCTQ, a nonprofit research and advocacy education-reform organization, requested copies of faculty-authored syllabi from MnSCU under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. MnSCU is a statutorily created organization of the state's colleges and universities and is governed by a board of trustees that is itself a state agency. Minn. Stat. §§ 136F.06, subds. 1, 2, 136F.65 (2012). MnSCU refused to honor the NCTQ's data request because it believed that providing the syllabi might allow the NCTQ to infringe on the intellectual-property rights of the faculty members who authored them, exposing MnSCU to liability under the Federal Copyright Act. It offered to allow the NCTQ to inspect the syllabi, but not to copy them. The NCTQ insisted that, "for its research to be meaningful, " it needed to copy the documents rather than merely to view them, and it sued, urging the district court to compel MnSCU to meet its copy request. The Inter Faculty Organization, a teachers' union in the MnSCU system, intervened in support of MnSCU's position.
After discovery, MnSCU and the NCTQ each moved the district court for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in part to the NCTQ. It determined from the undisputed facts that the NCTQ maintained the educational materials that it collected in a secure database accessible only to the "NCTQ supervisors and analysts and the NCTQ-approved outside researchers" who must sign confidentiality agreements before accessing the data. It concluded that although the syllabi were the intellectual property of MnSCU faculty-authors, the NCTQ's proposed use was "fair use" under the copyright act and that MnSCU could therefore not rely on that act to refuse to follow the data practices act and disclose the syllabi. It ordered MnSCU to provide copies of the requested syllabi to the NCTQ under the data practices act notwithstanding the copyright act.