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… for NYC records access and use

The deadline is coming up fast for public comments on a proposed rule by the New York City agency in charge of the Municipal Archives that — unless it’s changed a lot — will impact the rights of researchers, historians and genealogists to use public records without paying a licensing fee.

Tomorrow, October 23, is the deadline for comments and the date of a public hearing on a proposed rule by the New York City Department of Records and Information Services that, should it go through without substantial changes, will add a licensing fee to use a public record on top of the record fee for getting the copy of the public record in the first place — to apply to “any use of a reproduction of a still image, document, or other archival item …The publication or license fee start at $15.00 for educational, scholarly or non-profit products or media, and increase for commercial products or media.”1

And yes, that’s a direct quote from the proposed rule.

Now The Legal Genealogist is well aware that those who have commented about just how … um … dumb that proposal is have gotten an automated reply from the system that says, in effect, “We Didn’t Mean It” and “Trust Us We’ll Fix It.” The untranslated version of the reply is:

Thank you for commenting on the proposed update to the Rules of the Department of Records and Information Services. The Department does not plan to charge a license fee, or request permission, for the personal use of genealogy records. DORIS currently has a license fee that is charged when items are commercially reproduced. The rule simply updates that license fee to bring it in line with similar institutions. We understand that the language in the proposed rule may be confusing and we will ensure that the final rule clarifies this matter before it is published. We apologize for any mis-understanding and we look forward to continuing to help people around the world document their New York City roots.2

Is there anyone alive here in 2020 who’s willing to accept a “don’t worry we’ll fix it” type statement from any government agency anywhere on the planet? I’m sure not. Until we see the exact language of the exact final proposal, this rule remains a very serious threat to public access to and use of public records.

So… if you haven’t done so already, please take a moment and weigh in.

You can find the rule and the place to enter your comment on the New York City rules website: You should be able to get there by clicking on the image above as well.

And if you’re not sure just what to say, the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society update page on this issue has some suggestions.

Understand that the reason we need to be heard, now, in force, is that we don’t know what that trust us we’ll fix it version of the rule is going to say, and New York City rulemaking procedures don’t give us a chance to be heard again after the final rule version is disclosed.

So speak out, and oppose the rule proposal.3

Speak out now.

We won’t get another chance.

Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “Speak out now!,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 22 Oct 2020).


  1. Notice of Public Hearing and Opportunity to Comment on Proposed Rules,” New York City Department of Records & Information Services, NYCRules ( : accessed 7 Oct 2020), emphasis added. And yes, it says “fee start” and not “fee starts” or “fees start” in the rule.
  2. There’s no way I’ve found to provide a link to this…
  3. There’s more info on how to do that in my first post on this too.
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