Case Name: National Council on Teacher Quality v. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Type of Case: Open Records

Court: Jefferson County Circuit Court

Case Number: 2012-CV-63

Filed On: January 25, 2012

Current Status: Case closed with favorable settlement

NCTQ is a non-profit organization engaged in research regarding teacher quality and reform of the teaching profession, including education and evaluation of the performance of the nation’s schools of education.  As part of a project gauging the quality of education schools across the country, NCTQ filed open records requests to twelve UW schools of education requesting numerous documents – including syllabi – for many courses.  The schools released many of the requested documents but uniformly refused to provide course syllabi, claiming that they were protected by copyright.

This lawsuit alleges that the schools’ refusals violate open records laws.  Those laws do contain a narrow exception for “materials to which access is limited by copyright, patent or bequest.”  Wis. Stat. § 19.32(2).  However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that even where public records are copyrighted, public access to those records constitutes “fair use” under federal copyright law.  Zellner v. Cedarburg School District, 2007 WI 53, ¶ 31.

In December, 2012, NCTQ and the Board of Regents reached a settlement agreement.  Under the terms of the settlement, the schools agree to turn over all of the requested syllabi, turn over and syllabi requested by NCTQ in the future, and pay NCTQ’s attorney fees and court costs.