Twenty-five states offer academic exceptions to FOIA laws

In a recent law journal article, Ryan Fairchild helpfully compares the freedom of information laws of all 50 states to see how they might govern requests for material from public universities. He finds that Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have the best laws in place.

[Ryan C. Fairchild. “Giving Away the Playbook: How North Carolina’s Public Records Law Can Be Used to Harass, Intimidate, and Spy.” North Carolina Law Review 91 (2013): 2117–2178. h/t Rebecca Tushnet]

Fairchild notes,

A trade secrets exemption alone will not protect academic research. As such, twenty-five states have provided for some further protection for academic research. This is perhaps the most vital protection to prevent the abuses discussed above. This exemption also has the widest scope in terms of the type of protection provided by each state.

He concludes that North Caronia (and, by implication, other states) could learn from the three with the clearest laws.

An academic research exemption, if correctly constructed, would prevent the use of [public records laws] to harass academic researchers, as well as the potential loss of partnerships between private businesses and public universities. Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Georgia provide model language for an academic research exemption in four aspects. Statutes in those states (1) refer specifically to institutions of higher education; (2) grant broad protection for “writings or records that consist of intellectual property or proprietary information received, generated, learned, or discovered during research,” as well as “[u]npublished lecture notes, unpublished manuscripts, unpublished articles, creative works in progress, research-related material and scholarly correspondence;” (3) provide protection for professors, university employees, and students alike; and (4) make reasonable information immediately available, specifically “the title and a description of all research projects, the name of the researcher, and the amount and source of funding provided for each project.”

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About Zachary Schrag
Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University. The views expressed here are my own and may not reflect those of George Mason University.

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