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Copying Charges for Public Records

This page provides guidance on what fees and charges local governments in Washington State may impose for public records requests, including law enforcement records, and includes examples of fee schedules.

It is part of MRSC's Public Records Act series, Law Enforcement Records series, and Electronic Records Policy Tool Kit.


Overview

If a public records requestor wants to inspect records on-site at a local government agency, or if the agency provides the records via a publicly available weblink, the agency cannot charge a fee.

However, if the agency provides the requestor with copies of public records, the agency can charge for those copies pursuant to its adopted fee schedule. An agency does have the discretion to waive any copying charges pursuant to adopted rules.

For a good overview of charges, see this one-page summary of the fee charges allowed by the PRA prepared by Nancy Krier of the Washington Attorney General’s Office.


Allowable Charges

Under the Public Records Act, agencies have a few options for calculating the charges for copies of public records.

These allowable charges are largely limited to what it costs the agency to make and produce copies of the records. Under the PRA, agencies generally cannot charge for the time staff time spend locating a public record or making it available for inspection (including any time spent reviewing or redacting records). However, there are some limited exceptions for certain law enforcement records as described later on this page.

Option #1: Actual Costs

Agencies can charge the actual cost incurred for providing copies by adopting a statement of costs, after notice and a public hearing (RCW 42.56.070(7)).

For hard copies, actual cost includes:

  • The cost of paper,
  • The per page cost for use of agency copying equipment,
  • The cost of postage or delivery charges and the container used for delivery, and
  • Staff time to copy and send the requested public records.

For electronic copies, actual cost includes:

  • The cost of electronic production or file transfer of a record,
  • The use of cloud-based storage and processing services,
  • The transmission of records in electronic format, including the transmission charge and the media device used for delivery, and
  • Staff time to copy and send the requested public records.

Option #2: Statutory Default Charges

Alternatively, if agency policy establishes that calculating actual costs would be unduly burdensome, the agency can adopt the statutory default charges in RCW 42.56.120:

  • 15 cents/page for photocopies or printed copies of electronic records;
  • 10 cents/page for records scanned into electronic format;
  • 5 cents for every four electronic files or attachments uploaded to an email, cloud storage service, or other electronic delivery system;
  • 10 cents/gigabyte for transmitting records electronically;
  • The actual cost of the digital storage media/device, container used to mail the copies, and postage or delivery charges;
  • A customized service charge for requests that would require information technology expertise to prepare data or provide customized electronic access.

Option #3: Flat Fee Up To $2 Per Request

Agencies have the option to charge a flat fee of up to $2 per request as an alternative to actual or default costs if the agency reasonably estimates and documents that the costs are equal or more than $2. Agencies should note that this fee can only be charged once per request and not per installment. See RCW 42.56.120(2)(d).


Law Enforcement Records

In addition to the general provisions of the Public Records Act, there are also several statutes specific to law enforcement agencies that allow for different types of cost recovery above and beyond the typical charges in the PRA:

  • Body Camera Redaction: RCW 42.56.240(14) allows agencies to charge for staff time spent redacting body camera video recordings for certain requestors, in addition to the regular costs allowed under RCW 42.56.070(7).
  • Criminal History Records Information: RCW 10.97.100 allows criminal justice agencies to establish and collect reasonable fees for the dissemination of criminal history record information to agencies and persons.
  • Traffic Accident Reports: RCW 46.52.085 allows law enforcement agencies to adopt a standard fee to cover the costs of furnishing copies of traffic accident reports, regardless of the number of pages in the report.
  • Sheriff Department Audio, Visual, or Photographic Material: RCW 36.18.040(1)(t) allows sheriffs to collect fees for the reproduction of audio, visual, or photographic material, including the actual cost of personnel time.

Deposits and Charging in Installments

RCW 42.56.120(4) provides a couple effective tools to help ensure that an agency recovers its copying costs. One method is to require the requestor make a deposit in an amount not to exceed 10% of estimated copying costs, prior to copying the records.

Another effective tool is to produce records in installments and charge for each installment as it is provided. If an installment of a records request is not claimed or reviewed, the agency may close the request without further provision of records.


Examples of Copying Charges 

The following are examples of charges adopted in response to 2017 legislation, EHB 1595, now contained in RCW 42.56.070(7) and RCW 42.56.120.

General Public Records Fee Schedules

Law Enforcement Records Fee Schedules


Last Modified: May 19, 2020