A U.S. District Court judge in San Francisco has tentatively ruled in favor of an open-records activist who had sued the Internal Revenue Service to force the agency to make nonprofit tax forms more accessible to the public.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported the development on Thursday in the case that has broad implications for transparency in the nonprofit sector.

Charities file Form 990, which contains a wealth of information about their revenue, expenses, programs, salaries and governance issues.

In 2013, Carl Malamud and his advocacy group Public.Resource.org asked the IRS for the returns in a machine-readable format of nine nonprofit groups that had been filed them electronically.

The IRS resisted, saying it wanted to continue to release the information in image files and maintaining that it would be too difficult to redact confidential information, such as donor lists.

The Chronicle reported that Malamud’s lawsuit cited the Freedom of Information Act, according to which government agencies must produce documents in “any form or format requested” if they are “readily reproducible” in that format.

Up to now, watchdog outfits that monitor the nonprofit sector have had to pay for manual entry of return data, even if it was originally digitized.

— Check out Watchdog Suing for Easier Access to Nonprofits’ Tax Forms on ThinkAdvisor.