Zellner v. Cedarburg School District

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Zellnervs.Cedarburg School District
Number: 2006AP1143-AC
Year: 2007
State: Wisconsin
Court: Wisconsin Supreme Court
Other lawsuits in Wisconsin
Other lawsuits in 2007
Precedents include:
This case established that copyright materials are considered exempt if they fail to meet the federal copyright "fair use" criteria. If they meet the criteria, they can be released.
WikiFOIA
Find your State
Sunshine Laws
Open Records laws
Open Meetings Laws
How to Make Records Requests
Sunshine Legislation
2010
Sorted by State, Year and Topic
Sunshine Litigation
Sorted by State, Year and Topic
Sunshine Nuances
Private Agencies, Public Dollars
Deliberative Process Exemption


See also Zellner v. Herrick.

Zellner v. Cedarburg School District In this 2007 case, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed an Ozaukee County trial court order to release a CD of images that a newspaper requested after a Wisconsin high school teacher was fired for viewing the images on his school computer.[1]

Important precedents

This case established that copyright materials are considered exempt if they fail to meet the federal copyright "fair use" criteria. If they meet the criteria, they can be released.

Background

  • On January 17, 2006, Zellner, a science teacher within the school district for eleven years, was terminated from his post for viewing adult websites from his work computer.
  • On February 20, 2006, Zellner and the school board met to discuss Zellner's termination. At the meeting, the school board gave Zellner a copy of a memo composed by the district attorney concerning the case and a cd containing a record of the websites, searches and images Zellner had viewed on the computer. The cd was compiled from an investigation conducted on Zellner's computer.
  • On February 22, 2006, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel made a public request for the memo and the CD under the Wisconsin Open Records Law. The district notified Zellner that it intended to release the documents.
  • Zellner filed suite in Ozaukee County circuit court, attempting to prevent the release of the documents. Zellner argued that the items were exempt because they contained copyrighted material, were part of a current investigation and contained alleged and unproven information that would undermine Zellner's reputation, citing Newspapers Inc. v. Breier.
  • The circuit court ruled against Zellner.
  • The case was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court[2]

Ruling of the court

The trial court ruled in favor of the newspapers, ordering the documents released.

The supreme court affirmed the decision of the trial court and ordered the release of the documents.

The court first determined that the records in question were in fact public records and were not subject to copyright laws. In order to determine this, the court looked to federal fair use practices for copyright law.[2]

Federal copyright law

The court included 4 criteria in their estimation of fair use copyright law:
1.) Purpose of use (commercial, educational)
2.) Nature of the work
3.) Amount of copyrighted information used
4.) Affect on the economic value of the work
The court determined that based on these criteria, the documents in question did not fall under the copyright exemption because the district did not gain anything economically from the release of the documents, and the documents were already free to view on the internet.[2]

Exemption for investigations

The court also determined that the documents were not exempt under the Wisconsin Open Records Law's exemption for investigation files prior to disciplinary action. The court felt that the investigation clearly concluded in Zellner's termination and future union grievance hearings did not result in new investigations pending results.[2]

The balancing test

Citing Linzmeyer v. D.J. Forcey, the court established that an individuals personal interest in privacy did not constitute an element of the public interest in keeping the records closed. The court further determined that the public's interest in regulating the behavior of teachers clearly outweighed any public interest for keeping these particular personal records exempt in order to protect Zellner's reputation.[2]

Based on these three arguments, the Supreme Court decided to affirm the decision of the trial court and ordered the documents released.

Associated cases

See also

External links

References