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September 1, 2005

The Copier Broke Down! Now What?

Public officials must furnish copies - even when the copier breaks down!

Government bodies in Iowa range from large, well-equipped offices with dozens of employees, to small boards or councils with one or two staff members. Some offices may be equipped so modestly that they operate with only one copy machine. So, what happens if the copy machine breaks down -- and then someone requests a public record? Can public officials simply tell requesters: "Sorry, the copier broke down"? Large, small, or in-between, all government bodies have a duty to furnish the public a reasonable number of copies of public records.

The duty to provide a reasonable number of copies of public records continues even after the copier breaks down. Here are guidelines to keep in mind when faced with broken copy equipment:

Collaborative arrangements. Government offices may share copiers or "borrow" copy equipment from other offices as long as they charge the public only the actual cost of furnishing copies.

Commercial copy centers. Government offices may use commercial copy centers to make copies of public records for the requester, but special precautions may be necessary to protect confidential information if the records, like medical records or tax records, are not open for everyone to examine.

Preservation of originals. Public officials must protect records from being damaged or disorganized. So officials should either personally make the copies or personally supervise the copying process -- original public records should never be relinquished. Iowa Code sec. 22.3. (See Sunshine Advisory, "Safeguarding Public Records -- Public officials need to facilitate access and protect records.")

Remember: Government bodies maintain public records for all the people of Iowa and must act responsibly to make them available for examination and copying -- even when the copier breaks down!

Sunshine advisories are a general resource for government officials and citizens on Iowa's public records and open meetings laws – our "sunshine” laws.  Local officials should obtain legal advice from their counsel, such as the city or county attorney.

The Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) is an independent board that the Iowa Legislature established specifically to address open meetings and open records-related matters.  The IPIB provides information to the public and governmental entities on "sunshine" issues.

The IPIB, which has jurisdiction and authority to investigate and enforce Iowa's open meetings and open records laws, enables citizens to file a complaint if they believe that someone is violating these laws.

Citizens who have inquiries or complaints about public records or open meetings should contact the Iowa Public Information Board. Iowa Public Information Board.

Wallace Building, Third Floor
502 East 9th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319


Phone: 515-725-1781

Updated December 1, 2014


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