Public Comment: October 23, 2020

The following is a transcript of NYG&B President D. Joshua Taylor's public comment at the October 23 hearing regarding a proposed rule change to New York City Department of Records and Information Services rules. Read more about our opposition.

My name is Joshua Taylor, and I am President of the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society. Our constituents live across the United States and have an interest in researching the lives of past New Yorkers. In 2016 the NYG&B, in cooperation with DORIS published an authorized guide to the holdings of the Municipal Archives for genealogists, historians, students, and others. The work of DORIS is critical to our work—and the work of scholars and educators across the world.

I am here today in opposition to the proposed rule changes. Since the public comment period began, we have been told the situation has been misrepresented, that the changes are simply business as usual and only meant to be a change in fee structures. We have been promised the final rule would be clarified, and it has been admitted that the proposed changes are unclear.

If this change is simply about fees, why are the proposed written rules unclear? How might they be interpreted in 10 or 20 years?

Let me share a few key points. We firmly oppose the concept of licensing public records for educational and scholarly use. These are public records, created by – and cared for by – taxpayer funds.

The proposed changes to section 2-06 place a “publication or license fee and specifically state that this fee begins at $15.00 per item for “educational, scholarly or non-profit products…”

This provision is in direct conflict with the New York State Freedom of Information Law.

Proposed section 3-01 places further unnecessary restrictions on our use of these materials. It states that copies are “for the researcher’s personal use only,” and “may not be reduplicated, published, or transferred to another individual or institution.” As written, researchers cannot pass along these materials to anyone. Further, the rules state, “Permission may be granted subject to fees and the conditions stated in the Publish/Use Contract form (MA-45)…”

This brings me to form MA-45. It makes no distinction between commercial, private, or non-profit use. The form goes so far as to claim that DORIS holds the rights to any reproductions an individual might make (even when using their own equipment) while researching at archives or library research rooms.

The very concept that a license is required to use these materials for scholarly, educational, and non-profit purposes is outrageous. It goes against New York State’s rules protecting the access and use of public records, it is contrary to the spirit in which grants, such as those awarded to DORIS for digitization, have been given—and above all—it is an affront to the taxpayers whose funds supports the preservation of our public records.

We are here today with two main requests:

Withdraw the proposed changes in their entirety. They are conflicting, illogical, and clearly more than just business as usual.

Future changes should eliminate the concept of licensing and restrictions upon the use of public records – please work with us in drafting these changes.

We are taxpayers, we are users, we are the public, and these are our records. Thank You.