Tuesday, March 6, 2007

PA Sunshine: Videotaping Public Meetings

A Look At Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law

What does Pennsylvania law say about someone videotaping a meeting of a public body?

A thank you to Mark Rauterkus for calling attention in this post to an attempt by the chair of the City Planning Commission to block his use of a video camera. It prompted me to do some checking online and in person.

Here's what I found:

From the minutes of the January 23, 2007 meeting of Pittsburgh's Planning Commission:

" (Chairwoman) Ms. Watson advised the people in the audience that video taping or recording is not permitted at this meeting and requested that the person video taping please stop."

From the agenda for the meeting this afternoon:

“PLANNING COMMISSION AGENDA, March 6, 2007, 2:00 p.m.

E. Director’s Report

...Staff Recommendation on Video Taping...

I wasn’t able to attend the meeting. Earlier in the day, however, City Planning Director Patrick Ford assured me that the staff recommendation was not to ban videotaping, but to establish a written policy. He promised to e-mail that recommendation to me.

Some other background:

A 2003 publication from the Governor's Center for Local Government Services entitled "Open Meetings/Open Records: The Sunshine Act and the Right to Know Law" notes:

Recording Devices
The Sunshine Act allows persons attending public meetings to record the proceedings with recording devices.

This right extends to the use of videotaping equipment. (1) Public agencies are permitted to adopt reasonable rules governing the use of recording devices.

Persons who attend and verbally participate in public meetings must expect to have their statements recorded. (2)

Since zoning hearing board hearings are public meetings under the terms of the Sunshine Act, any citizen has a right to tape record the session.

Individuals speaking at the hearing must expect to have their statements
recorded. They can have no expectation of privacy which would afford them protection under the Federal Wire Tap Act.

1. Hain v. Board of School Directors of Reading School District, 641 A.2d 661, 163 Pa.Cmwlth. 479, 1994.
2. Harman v. Wetzel, 766 F.Supp. 271, E.D. Pa., 1991."

The PA Sunshine Act itself says:

"Section 711. Use of equipment during meetings
(a) Recording devices. Except as provided in subsection (b), a person attending a meeting of an agency shall have the right to use recording devices to record all the proceedings. Nothing in this section shall prohibit the agency from adopting and enforcing reasonable rules for their use under section 710 (relating to rules and regulations for conduct of meetings)."


Dean said...

Concerning videotaping public meetings, does this mean someone could set their VCR to record the broadcast of city council and legally post it on the internet? What would be the difference between that and me showing up at council, videoing the meeting and posting it on the internet? Do copyright laws still apply to public meetings? I was just curious and thinking it may be something to consider if you pursue this issue any further.

Bob Mayo said...

I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you my personal opinion. I've always argued that the video of City Council meetings produced by the city's own cable bureau is a public record. My thinking is that it's an electronic document--produced at taxpayer expense--of a government proceeding.

I used to have friendly disagreements with Mayor Murphy's spokesman on this issue. I don't live in the city and haven't seen the council cable broadcast in years, so I don't recall if they post a copyright notice on it. If they do, I don't know if acknowledging the city as a source is sufficient for a "fair use" of an excerpt of the meeting.

Mark Rauterkus said...

The city does run a copyright notice on the tape of the meetings but IMHO, and I don't play a lawyer, even on TV, it is BOGUS.

I don't want to dare the city to sue me.... But, if I'm elected, I'm going to do everything I can to make every meeting OPEN and without any copyrights. Zippo.

I put nearly everything I do into the public domain.

I don't even like to use the 'creative commons' license(s) options.