June 22, 2006
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
I have received your letter in which you questioned the propriety of a "a fee of $53.75 for over 3.5 hours of work" in response to your request for "a copy of [your] tape recorded assessment review which was approximately 5 minutes."
From my perspective, the fee to which you referred is inconsistent with law. In this regard, §87(1)(b)(iii) of the Freedom of Information Law provides that agencies, by rule, may establish fees "which shall not exceed twenty-five cents per photocopy not in excess of nine by fourteen inches, or the actual cost of reproducing any other record, except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute." Based on the foregoing, there are two standards for charging fees. One involves photocopies up to nine by fourteen inches, in which case an agency may charge up to twenty-five cents per photocopy, irrespective of its cost; and the second involves "other records", those that cannot be photocopied (i.e., tape recordings, computer disks and tapes, etc.), in which case the fee is based on the actual cost of reproduction. If another statute, an act of the State Legislature, authorizes an agency to charge a different fee, that provision would supersede the Freedom of Information Law.
With respect to clerical or other costs associated with responding to a request for copies of records, the specific language of the Freedom of Information Law and the regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government indicate that, absent statutory authority, an agency may charge fees only for the reproduction of records. In addition to §87(1)(b) of the Law, the regulations state in relevant part that:
"Except when a different fee is otherwise prescribed by statute:
(a) There shall be no fee charged for the following:
(1) inspection of records;
(2) search for records; or
(3) any certification pursuant to this Part" (21 NYCRR 1401.8)."
Further, §1401.8(c)(3) states in relevant part that "the actual reproduction cost...is the average unit cost for copying a record, excluding fixed costs of the agency such as operator salaries."
Based upon the foregoing, it has been held that the actual cost of reproducing a tape recording would involve the cost of a cassette (see Zaleski v. Hicksville Union Free School District, Supreme Court, Nassau County, NYLJ, December 27, 1978). In the alternative, you could place your tape recorder next to the municipality’s tape recorder and have your machine record the sound from the other machine. In that instance, since no copy would be made, no fee could be charged.
I hope that I have been of assistance.