Photographing courthouse documents.

HomePennsylvania Open Government ForumOpen Records HelpPhotographing courthouse documents.

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    I was at a courthouse today working on some genealogy research. I was told that I could not use my non-flash quiet camera to copy the documents I was looking at (just old deeds and wills) but I had to use their copy machine and pay $.50 a copy. The reason they gave was that the copy fee helped fund their office, so by taking photos of the documents I was told that I was stealing from them. I pointed out to them that these are public records that I am allowed to have access to them. And they countered that I could LOOK at them all I wanted …but I could not use my camera. In my opinion my taking a photo is much better for an old document than removing it from a binder and putting it through a machine with a blinding light that make sub par copies. Can they do that? Can they require me to use their copier instead of my non invasive, non damaging camera? If I NEED to use their copier I am happy to pay for their paper and ink, but I don’t think they can REQUIRE me to use it….or say that taking a photo is stealing from them…can they??


    Very interesting question, and one that is NOT addressed at all in the Right to Know law.

    You are correct, of course, that the RTK Law permits public inspection to records. (Viewing them in person.)

    And, there is nothing in the law that requires you to obtain copies.

    While the law is "silent" on the issue of a requester taking photographs of the records while viewing them, there is certainly nothing in the law that prohibits it … and certainly nothing in the law that establishes the right of an agency to profit from public access to records.

    This issue has come up before in appeals to the state Office of Open Records, and I believe the OOR has come down on the side of the requester when it comes to taking photographs of records. As long as photographs can be made without disrupting the office where they are kept and can be made without damaging the records, there is no legitimate reason to deny people the right to make photographs of the records they have access to.

    After all, the intent of the duplication fee is to cover the cost of materials — machine, paper, ink or toner — not to generate revenue for the agency.

    If the agency persists in denying permission to take photographs of records, you may try writing to the county solicitor, protesting the agency’s decision and asking politely to be pointed to the section of any law that prohibits a citizen from taking photographs of public records.

    If that doesn’t get you anywhere, you can try filing an appeal with the Office of Open Records, claiming you consider your request for the records was "deemed denied" because you were not allow to photograph the records you were given access to.

    NOTE: The Recorder of Deeds IS allowed to charge 50 cents a page for copies, even though the Office of Open Records has established that photocopying fees may be no more than 25 cents a page.

    This is because there is an "exception" in the fees section of the RTK Law that says "except as otherwise provided by statute, "no other fees may be imposed …"

    Which means because the state Judicial Code specifically permits Recorders of Deeds to charge 50 cents a page, then that law takes precedence over the RTK Law, which says the state OOR sets the fee.

    Hope that helps, and sorry I didn’t get to respond to your question earlier.




    They have the reason to do so, yes that is a document for public viewing, it might be a limited terms of freedom of information that this one restricted you to copy as it may be use for other purposes. If you really want and badly need a copy, you may perhaps use some hidden camera to take a photo of those documents without anyone
    knowing it. Just be careful, if they have existing laws pertaining to this public documents, there maybe a punishment for those who violates. When you have your own copy, have it in quality print and in digital format so you have better references, try it here

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