University of Iowa broke public records law, state board staff say

Open government advocates and Iowa’s state universities are poised for a fight over whether federal copyright laws pre-empt state laws requiring government agencies to provide public access to state-generated documents and materials.

The staff of the Iowa Public Information Board has found the University of Iowa broke Iowa’s public records law by refusing to share its photos and video from the historic 2008 floods with a Cedar Rapids documentary filmmaker.

“Public records were not released as required by Iowa law,” Interim Board Director Margaret Johnson wrote in a report to the board this week. “The issue is whether invoking federal copyright protection excuses the violation.”

The UI asserts copyright law protects the creative works of its employees. But open government advocates say allowing the UI to keep these records confidential may open the door to agencies shielding all sorts of public records.