MLS Has Right to Public Data in E-Format

Wisconsin Court of Appeals: WIREdata Inc. v. Village of Sussex, 2007

May 1, 2007

A Wisconsin appellate court has ruled that municipalities have to supply data on properties to the local MLS in a requested electronic format, despite a licensing agreement between the municipalities and a vendor that gave the vendor control over who could access the data.

The vendor developed a copyrighted computer software program that allowed municipal tax assessors to gather property information. When an MLS requested tax data from three municipalities that used the program, it was referred to the vendor, which told the MLS it would have to pay a one-time fee of $6,600 plus additional amounts to access the data.

The MLS sued the municipalities, seeking access to the data under Wisconsin’s open records law. This statute requires that public records be available to anyone paying the copying fee. The municipalities argued that they had licensed the data to the vendor, so the vendor had control of it. However, the state court of appeals ruled in favor of the MLS, determining that the municipalities couldn’t contract away their responsibility to provide public access.

The court also upheld the MLS’s request to receive the data in an electronic database format as within its rights under state law, since the municipalities received the data in that form from the vendor.

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