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According to a story in Ars Technica, a tax assessor in Kanawha County, West Virginia has filed a lawsuit to stop a company called Seneca Technologies from publishing tax maps of the whole state of West Virginia online. The tax assessor is citing a state law that prohibits individuals from copying and redistributing tax maps without the county tax assessor’s permission and enables tax assessors to sell paper copies of the maps for $8 each. She asserts that the online maps constitute copyright infringement and have caused her to suffer financial damages.
Seneca Technologies has already battled with the state tax department about the project. Seneca got the maps through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The state tax department tried to force Seneca to pay $8 for each of the 20,936 TIF images (a total of $167,488) and Seneca sued to force the agency to comply with its obligations under the FOIA. The Judge ruled in favor of Seneca, noting that the state law requiring payment applied only to paper maps and not digital copies. The tax department was forced to provide the entire collection of maps for a single payment of $20 to compensate it for the total reproduction costs. Seneca then made the maps freely available online so that they could be accessed by the general public on their website (called FOIAmaps). Seneca plans to use indexing technology to create a search system that makes it easy for users to correlate information from the tax maps with other data stored in Seneca’s databases.