Directed Questions to National Fire Protection Association

Neal Eisner: [0:01] ...that mic. How long did you say you've been doing this?
Maureen Brodoff: [0:05] Well, we started in the early 2000s, 2001 or '02, and we put up maybe five or ten of our 300 standards. By the middle of that decade, we decided to put up all of our standards.
Neal Eisner: [0:21] How did it affect your revenue stream?
Maureen Brodoff: [0:22] Well, it's hard to tell because we've had changes in the economy that affect the sales of our standards as well. But, generally speaking, we feel it works for us. I just don't have enough of the economic information.
Neal Eisner: [0:35] But you have seen other areas where you're increasing revenue like training, or other manuals that you're selling that you might not have sold?
Maureen Brodoff: [0:42] I'm not sure I can say that. In fact, we have had a very difficult time finding additional revenue sources for an organization like us. We've always had training and other products, but to replace revenue from copyright protected standards is very, very difficult. [0:58] I think there's been a certain cavalier attitude on the part of Professor Strauss and others, including the judge in the Veeck decision, who like many people say, "This is a new world. This is a new Internet age. Everything should be free. Instead of selling your records, go sell t-shirts, or start concertizing." That works for the Grateful Dead.

[1:24] Google has found out ways to make money on the web, but a lot of other organizations, a lot of smaller businesses have not found that way. We have not offset, in a great amount, the revenues from our copyright-protected sales from other services or products as yet.

[1:41] What I can say is, we have not seen a drop-off in revenue of copyright protected sales from the free access that we provided. We see opportunities perhaps to increase some sales through people coming to our website. That's where you guys can help.

Neal Eisner: [1:58] That's a very important point. You put it online for free and you're still getting the same number of people buying your copy.
Maureen Brodoff: [2:04] Well, we've had fewer sales. But I don't have those statistics. I'm just saying it's hard to know how much of that is attributable to our free access. We're willing, because of our mission, to accept that. But it's not without consequence. It's just very difficult to identify what the consequences are.
Neal Eisner: [2:24] If we were to tell someone, "You're going to have to change your business practice. We're not going to incorporate your standards by reference unless you start to make them available for free." From your perspective, how much time would we have to give them to adjust?
Maureen Brodoff: [2:39] We've been trying to adjust for 10 years. As I said, we have not found ways to significantly offset the revenues if we were to lose our copyrights. In other words, or if we were to make our material available for anyone to download and reproduce and sell. If it were essentially public domain, I don't know that we could find alternative models. [3:07] We would probably provide standards, but we would probably have to do pay-per-play, institute all kinds of other fees. I think it would have a corrosive effect on the kinds of things that we want to do.
Neal Eisner: [3:21] If you had to do it all over again, would you have done it in a different way, still getting to where you are now?
Maureen Brodoff: [3:26] In the sense of relying on copyright protected sales?
Neal Eisner: [3:29] For example, would you have put them online more slowly to see the effect? Or would you have tried to explore other revenue sources before you made them available? You just decided to put them online and put them online?
Maureen Brodoff: [3:41] We decided to try, and we feel like it's acceptable to us to do that. But with limitations. We now have a read-only product. It does have limited search capacity. We would like to expand that, but again, we have to gauge that very slowly. [4:01] It took us a number of years before we got to the point where we are. We're five more years down the road. There are new opportunities in terms of what's technically available that we're beginning to explore, but again, we're somewhat slow moving because we're not a wealthy organization. We're not profit oriented, so it's going to take us some time. To answer your questions, I have no idea. [laughs]
Neal Eisner: [4:21] OK. Have you gotten any feedback from those who do use your information in terms of their reaction to it being made available for free, and overall what they think? How they use the products, how they use your website? Do they use it more than they did in the past for other information, that sort of thing?
Maureen Brodoff: [4:44] We've gotten a very good response from those people who have taken advantage of it. We have made a lot of efforts to get people to our website in general, so I really can't...and we see in our future using, to the extent we provide free access. The downside for us is the upside that we can use it to drive people to our website, and that's something we want to explore, how to do that better.
Neal Eisner: [5:14] Do you have any data on whether you have increased your usage? Do you track that on your website? Because this is very helpful information, that's why we're asking a lot of questions.
Maureen Brodoff: [5:23] We do look at web hits, but we also have had a lot of strategic efforts in other ways to get people on our website. One thing that we have done, which maybe we could provide some statistics, is that we, as I said, about a year, year and a half ago, we sent out a notice to all the state level regulators that we could identify telling them about our free access and inviting them to link to our websites in those jurisdictions that adopt our codes and standards by reference. [5:55] We provided a link that would enable us to identify when someone was coming to our site from Alaska or something. We are starting to get some information about how things come through a government website to our website.

[6:11] That might be helpful in the future in understanding how our standards are used, where we can make the best efforts in providing information state by state. But as yet, that is limited information, because not that many jurisdictions are actively telling people more than, "This isn't an NPA standard. You can get it by contacting NFPA at this address." There are very few now that actually even link to our website.

Neal Eisner: [6:40] Now, you did ask about whether the government would link. We would obviously link to a website where we're incorporating by reference if we were allowed to do that. And we would probably link, among other places, in the rule making document itself where we cited your document. So, it would be a direct link from anybody reading the rule.
Maureen Brodoff: [6:55] And that's exactly the kind of thing that I'm proposing is, how do we do that in a way that's most useful to the user that will provide information to our users about us and that can send them to us?
Vanessa Allen Sutherland: [7:08] And I have a couple of other quick questions. Since you volunteered first as the SDO. The first is, how many secondary or tertiary references do you have of standards that are not owned by NFPA?
Maureen Brodoff: [7:21] Well, Scott Cooper alluded to this earlier. We have, in any one of our standards, at the end, there's an annex of all referenced, sub-referenced standards. And they all contain sub-references to other than NFPA standards, I would venture to guess.
Vanessa Allen Sutherland: [7:34] So, you have end user license agreements with those SDOs to say, we've put this up on the website, and to the extent people scroll through our material and see yours, or have access to yours, just wanted to let you know. I mean, do you have arrangements with them? Or did you, prior to posting your standards on the [indecipherable 0:07:53] ?
Neal Eisner: [7:53] Are you assuming the other ones are available for free?
Maureen Brodoff: [7:55] Well, this is your problem in the sense that we can't address, which is, we reference other standards the way the government references our standards, that we don't copy them, we just reference them.
Vanessa Allen Sutherland: [8:08] I see. So, you can't click on those if I go to your website, I can't click through to a NISTM.
Maureen Brodoff: [8:14] No. Some SDOs...and we may, for all I know, have some...are trying to work together to provide packages of standards in the [indecipherable 0:08:21] . But mostly, and I think for most SDOs that wouldn't be the case. That most of them are just, they're not linked anywhere. At this point, they're just referenced.
Vanessa Allen Sutherland: [8:33] And then the second is we addressed this very cursory level this morning about 508 compliance. I don't know to the extent all of your standards, whether they have a lot of graphical diagram, chart type of exhibits and attachments. [8:48] But have you all addressed 508 compliance when you decided to post this stuff for free? Or is that not really a big issue for you, because it's mostly textual?
Maureen Brodoff: [8:56] It's only recently come onto our screen. I don't know, as someone pointed out, whether we are obligated because of incorporation by reference. That said, we would be interested in knowing how to better comply and voluntarily comply, if we can do it in a reasonable way. [9:13] We have a lot of the disabled community that we work with in our standards development process, and we're very, very committed to that issue. So, it's something that maybe we could work with you to learn more about. But we would be very interested in complying.
Vanessa Allen Sutherland: [9:26] We just wondered if anybody was being proactive, even though it's not our obligation. OK.

Unofficial Transcript Provided by Public.Resource.Org