Media Law Handbook

Public Records


6. Are there special rules for computerized records?
4. What constitutes access?

5. What fees can be charged?

What fees can be charged?

In most cases, you should not have to pay for access to records. According to the Public Records Law, public records are the property of the people and “it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records and public information free or at minimal cost unless otherwise specifically provided by law. As used herein, ‘minimal cost’ shall mean the actual cost of reproducing the public record or public information.” However, government bodies sometimes use these provisions to assess fees for costs associated with retrieving, copying, and producing records. It is important for requesters to know the limits imposed on such fees and the rules that control the government’s ability to charge for records.

No fees can be charged merely to examine a public record. However, you can be required to pay for a copy of a record as long as the charge is limited to the “direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record as determined by generally accepted accounting principles and does not include costs that would have been incurred by the public agency if a request to reproduce a public record had not been made.” Actual costs include the cost of printer paper or other materials. Actual costs do not include staff time, a portion of the lease on the copier, or anything else the agency would have to pay if you had not made your request. According to the University of North Carolina School of Government, actual costs “typically may not include personnel costs; the person making the copy would have been paid whether he or she made the copy or did other work.” If an agency agrees to create or compile a new record as a courtesy to a requester, the agency may negotiate a reasonable charge for that service.

There are exceptions to the “actual cost” rule, however. The Public Records Law allows government bodies to levy a “special service charge” if a request requires extensive use of information technology resources or of supervisory or clerical assistance. The service charge “shall be based on the actual cost incurred for such extensive use of information technology resources or the labor costs of the personnel providing the services….” The UNC School of Government has opined that special service charges are only intended to cover costs associated with providing special services. The mere fact that a request yields voluminous records may not be grounds for assessing additional fees. It may also mean a requester must wait a considerable amount of time to obtain documents. Unfortunately, the term “extensive” is not defined in the Public Records Law and no cases involving the issue of costs assessed under this provision have been decided by North Carolina’s appellate courts, so requesters and public records offices are often at odds on the issue of high-volume requests.

Finally, several statutes fix fees for copies of specific types of records:

Agency Permitted Cost Statutory Authority

Register of Deeds

Certified copies - $5 for first page and $2 per additional page

Uncertified copies - “Fees that the register of deeds determines bear a reasonable relation to the quality of copies supplied and the cost of purchasing and maintaining copying and/or computer equipment. These fees may be changed from time to time, but the amount. . . . Shall at all times be uniform and prominently posted in the office of the register of deeds.”

N.C. Gen. Stat. §161-10

Division of Motor


Certified copies of “any document of the Division” except those listed below - $13

Accident reports - $5

Limited extract copy of license record, for period up to 3 years - $10

Complete extract copy of license record - $10

Certified true copy of complete license record - $14

Partial crash report, driver license and vehicle registration data in bulk form – 3 cents per record

N.C. Gen. Stat. §20-42, 20-26, 20-43.1

Clerk of Court

$2 for first page of each document requested and 25 cents for each additional page

N.C. Gen. Stat. §7A-308(a)(12)

Board of Examiners

of Plumbing, Heating, and Fire

Sprinkler Contractors

Copies of license - $20

Copies of board rules - $10

21 N.C.A.C. 50.1104

Department of Cultural Resources

(State archival agency)

Copies of public records no longer in current official use - “Department may charge reasonable fees for these copies. The Department may answer written inquiries for nonresidents of the State and for this service may charge a . . . fee not to exceed $25. The receipts from this fee shall be used to defray the cost of providing this service.”

N.C. Gen. Stat. §121-5

Secretary of State (Trademarks/

Service Marks)

“Fees for copying, comparing, and certifying a copy of any filed document relating to a trademark or service mark: $5 for the certificate, and $1 per page for copying.”

N.C. Gen. Stat. §80-7

Secretary of State (Uniform

Federal Lien Registration Act)

Copy of a notice of a federal lien or of a notice or certificate affecting a federal lien - $1 per page

N.C. Gen. Stat. §44-68.14

Secretary of State (Financing statements)

Copy of any filed financing statement or statement of assignment - $2 per page

N.C. Gen. Stat. §25-9-525

Department of Commerce: Commissioner of Banks Public records copies from commissioner of banks - $2 for first page, 10 cents for each additional page §4 N..C Administrative

Code 3C.1601



“Any record or paper” in the office of the Commissioner of Insurance – 50 cents per copy sheet

N.C. Gen. Stat. §58-6-5

If you feel a fee is unfair or unreasonable, you can ask the State Chief Information Officer or their designee to mediate the dispute. Requesters should also know that to proceed in litigation of a public records dispute, they must initiate mediation within 30 days after the government agency files responsive pleadings (such as an Answer or a Motion to Dismiss).

6. Are there special rules for computerized records?
4. What constitutes access?

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