Saturday, June 04, 2011

Strange George Mason University interpretations of Virginia FOI requests

In a May 28th Climate Audit post, Steve McIntyre sees some perfect contrast to George Mason University's provision of documents when requested under Virginia's Freedom of Information law, versus University of Virginia's resistance to a demand for records for a witch hunt under criminal prosecution laws by the state's denialist Attorney General. Ron Bailey, who's worked as a 'science' correspondent at 'Reason', doesn't even understand that the threat of criminal prosecution wasn't a FOIA request.

Steve includes this strange response that GMU sent with the FOI records:

The materials in this USB are being provided in compliance with the Virginia FOIA. Many of the documents are published research papers that are copyrighted by their respective publishers. All other documents are copyrighted by Edward J. Wegman and Yasmin H. Said or by their respective authors. All rights are reserved. These documents may not be forwarded to a third party. Also included in this USB is the George Mason University policy document 4007 on academic misconduct. This policy requires confidentiality for all parties including complainants, in this case Professor Raymond Bradley. This confidentiality requirement was violated by Professor Bradley.

The alleged confidentiality requirement and violation seem wrong. Prof Bradley wasn't an employee of GMU acting in the scope of his employment when he complained that GMU Professor Wegman was stealing Bradley's work, so Bradley could tell GMU to go stuff it when it talks about its confidentiality policy. They'd have to prove he signed a confidentiality agreement instead if they feel like whining.

This FOI response isn't itself confidential and in no way binds the recipient to confidentiality.

The copyright claims are a little trickier. Generally documents created by employees shift copyright ownership to the employer, GMU. That can be changed by agreement with the employer, though.

I have seen before the claim that documents subject to third-party copyright can't be released by government agencies. I think it's a weak argument, much weaker than say, climate data-sharing that was contractually limited from disclosure, but GMU isn't actually saying that because it is, in fact, releasing the documents. It's not clear what GMU is saying other than weirdly warning the journalist to only reproduce the documents to the extent allowed underexceptions to copyright. (Climate law seems to be as much about copyright, libel, and free expression as it is about environmental law. My knowledge of those areas is somewhat limited, and every state and country is different).

Meanwhile, some commenters at Climate Audit try mightily to clear up confusion between criminal threats versus FOI requests, and between narrowly targeted FOI request of GMU versus the 9,000 page FOI request that has also been asked of UVa in addition to the criminal witchhunting. Somehow, though, people aren't listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.