Lawyers Commission Historical Study on Photocopiers in Cuyahoga County's Great Photocopier Court Case

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Earlier this year we shared the case of Data Trace, a company that profits from bundling and reselling boring government records.

For years, the Cuyahoga County Recorder’s Office furnished Data Trace with CDs full of files for the recession-busting price of $50 a day. That was before a slight change in house policy upped the fee to a per-copy basis — resulting in a somewhat less modest fee of thousands of dollars daily. Naturally, Data Trace sued the county.

At the time, The Plain Dealer made sport of the testimony of a recorder’s office worker who jousted at length with a Data Trace lawyer over the definition of the term “copy.” The newspaper’s implication was that the employee was an overpaid, fumbling clown who couldn’t or wouldn’t give a straightforward explanation of something as obvious as what a photocopier is.

Apparently, it’s not so obvious after all. Data Trace’s law firm, Baker & Hostetler, has commissioned a report on the history of document reproduction technology from Case Western Reserve’s history department.

The report, prepared by assistant professor Peter Shulman, describes the photostat process and xerography and CD-ROM burning in intricate if not sexually charged detail. It explains the mechanics of scanners, fax machines, CD burners, and photocopiers. Want to know the Greek derivation of “xerography”? That’s in there too, along with a passage about the value of public records to historians and a quote from Thomas Jefferson. A professor never misses a chance to show off his erudition, after all.

And in Section C of the report, titled “Photocopying,” the report states: “The third term, ‘photocopying,’ is more complex, and its meaning has changed over time.”

The upshot: It’s no wonder the original courtroom volley required 10 pages of transcript.

The professor’s report, by comparison, is 40 pages long, including four pages of Shulman’s résumé. Membership in the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” Club is not among his accomplishments. -- Anastasia Pantsios

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