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General rules for charging for copies.
(1) No fees for costs of inspection.
An agency cannot charge a fee for locating public records or for preparing the records for inspection or copying. RCW 42.17.300
An agency cannot charge a "redaction fee" for the staff time necessary to prepare the records for inspection, for the copying required to redact records before they are inspected, or an archive fee for getting the records from offsite. Op. Att'y Gen. 6 (1991). These are the costs of making the records available for inspection or copying and cannot be charged to the requestor.
(2) Standard photocopy charges. Standard photocopies are black and white 8x11 paper copies. An agency can choose to calculate its copying charges for standard photocopies or to opt for a default copying charge of no more than fifteen cents per page.
If it attempts to charge more than the fifteen cents per page maximum for photocopies, an agency must establish a statement of the "actual cost" of the copies it provides, which must include a "statement of the factors and the manner used to the determine the actual per page cost." RCW 42.17.260
(7)/42.56.070(7). An agency may include the costs "directly incident" to providing the copies such as paper, copying equipment, and staff time to make the copies. RCW 42.17.260
An agency failing to properly establish a copying charge in excess of the default fifteen cents per page maximum is limited to the default amount. RCW 42.17.260
(7)(a) and (b)/42.56.070 (7)(a) and (b) and 42.17.300
If it charges more than the default rate of fifteen cents per page, an agency must provide its calculations and the reasoning for its charges. RCW 42.17.260
(7)/42.56.070(7) and 42.17.300
A price list with no analysis is insufficient. An agency's calculations and reasoning need not be elaborate but should be detailed enough to allow a requestor or court to determine if the agency has properly calculated its copying charges. An agency should generally compare its copying charges to those of commercial copying centers.
If an agency opts for the default copying charge of fifteen cents per page, it need not calculate its actual costs. RCW 42.17.260
(3) Charges for copies other than standard photocopies.
Nonstandard copies include color copies, engineering drawings, and photographs. An agency can charge its actual costs for nonstandard photocopies. RCW 42.17.300
/42.56.120. For example, when an agency provides records in an electronic format by putting the records on a disk, it may charge its actual costs for the disk. The agency can provide a requestor with documentation for its actual costs by providing a catalog or price list from a vendor.
(4) Copying charges apply to copies selected by requestor.
Often a requestor will seek to inspect a large number of records but only select a smaller group of them for copying. Copy charges can only be charged for the records selected by the requestor. RCW 42.17.300
/42.56.120 (charges allowed for "providing" copies to requestor).
The requestor should specify whether he or she seeks inspection or copying. The agency should inform the requestor that inspection is free. This can be noted on the agency's request form. If the requestor seeks copies, then the agency should inform the requestor of the copying charges for the request. An agency should not assemble a large number of records, fail to inform the requestor that inspection is free, and then attempt to charge for copying all the records.
Sometimes a requestor will choose to pay for the copying of a large batch of records without inspecting them. This is allowed, provided that the requestor is informed that inspection is free. Informing the requestor on a request form that inspection is free is sufficient.
(5) Use of outside vendor.
An agency is not required to copy records at its own facilities. An agency can send the project to a commercial copying center and bill the requestor for the amount charged by the vendor. An agency is encouraged to do so when an outside vendor can make copies more quickly and less expensively than an agency. An agency can arrange with the requestor for him or her to pay the vendor directly. An agency cannot charge the default fifteen cents per page rate when its "actual cost" at a copying vendor is less. The default rate is only for agency-produced copies. RCW 42.17.300
(6) Sales tax.
An agency cannot charge sales tax on copies it makes at its own facilities. RCW 82.12.02525
(7) Costs of mailing.
If a requestor asks an agency to mail copies, the agency may charge for the actual cost of postage and the shipping container (such as an envelope). RCW 42.17.260
1See also Op. Att'y Gen. 6 (1991).
The costs of staff time is allowed only for making copies. An agency cannot charge for staff time for locating records or other noncopying functions. See
/42.56.120 ("No fee shall be charged for locating public documents and making them available for copying.").
3See also Op. Att'y Gen. 6 (1991) (agency must "justify" its copy charges).
[Statutory Authority: 2005 c 483 § 4, RCW 42.17.348
. WSR 06-04-079, § 44-14-07001, filed 1/31/06, effective 3/3/06.]