The Minnesota Court of Appeals just issued its ruling: the Minnesota State College and University system (MnSCU) must provide NCTQ with the course syllabi we requested under Minnesota's open records law. This ruling has important implications well beyond the land of 10,000 lakes.
As in similar cases in Missouri and Wisconsin, MnSCU claimed that it could not turn over syllabi to us without violating the copyright of the faculty members who had created them. We argued that our use of the syllabi constituted "fair use" because it was for a clear research purpose -- determining which teacher prep programs did the best job readying candidates for the classroom -- and so therefore was allowed under the federal copyright act.
Last fall, a Minnesota district court ruled in our favor, noting that "any way this case is analyzed, NCTQ is entitled to the documents it seeks." MnSCU appealed the ruling to the state's court of appeals. The appeals court's ruling is just as clear as the earlier verdict: "a government agency cannot refuse to provide the requested data relying only on the hypothetical concern that the [requestor's] use might not constitute fair use."
In mid-July, a Missouri district court judge ruled that the University of Missouri was not obliged to fulfill our open records request for syllabi. The decision did not provide a rationale, though it was clear at trial that the judge had concerns that disclosure of syllabi might violate the copyright of the faculty. As the Minnesota case was on appeal, he could not make use of the original decision in his analysis. Now that the Minnesota decision has been affirmed, however, we are confident that the Missouri Court of Appeals will find the precedent-setting analysis compelling when we make our appeal.The basic proposition at the heart of our argument is this: the public's right to know more about the activities of public agencies can be harmonized with faculty members intellectual property rights -- without doing harm to either. The first edition of our Teacher Prep Review demonstrated this point, and subsequent editions with the additional data afforded to us by the Minnesota decision will make it all the more clear.