I often see news stories discussing the issue of copyright protection as it relates to codes and standards as well as standards development organizations (SDOs). Much to my chagrin, most get it wrong and perpetuate misinformation and inaccuracies put forth by those who are uninformed or seeking to dismantle the highly effective code development system that benefits government, business, and the public.
Those of us invested in safety need to be well versed and take more action to refute false information and provide critical context to a system that is much more complicated than ever portrayed.
Here are the facts that address the three most common mistakes I see. First, NFPA is not a for-profit organization. NFPA is a nonprofit that has developed safety standards for 125 years. It is factually inaccurate and misleading to characterize our organization as a for-profit entity or being driven by a profit motive. We are self-funded by publishing, selling copies of, and licensing other rights to our standards. We don’t depend on subsidies or contributions from government, or the industries affected by our standards.
Second, all NFPA codes and standards can be viewed for free. Detractors argue that anyone should be able to access our codes and standards for free. They can. NFPA is committed to publicly sharing critical safety information and has long provided our standards for free viewing online to anyone, along with other research and educational materials. We fully support the proposition that if people are interested in the content of our standards, they should be able to access them and read for themselves what they say; everyone has that ability. The full list of NFPA standards can be accessed on our website.
Third, taxpayers don’t pay anything for the development of NFPA standards. I hear the argument that taxpayers are paying twice for laws to be created – once through the legislative process and again to access standards incorporated by reference – but this is false. Taxpayers don’t pay a dime for the development of NFPA standards. If NFPA did not develop these standards, taxpayers would have to pay for them to be developed some other way, likely with fewer updates, greater cost to the public, more industry influence, or some combination of all these. Worse still, standards might not be developed or updated at all. Such a scenario would make people less safe and building and manufacturing more expensive. NFPA’s process is the gold standard for standards development. It’s balanced, transparent, and open. Governments are incorporating the codes and standards we create by reference because they find the work so valuable. This is a partnership that has worked well for 125 years.
NFPA develops more than 300 safety standards through an open, consensus-based process. All standards are rigorously revised and updated every three to five years. Some special interests wrongly argue that governments choosing to incorporate portions of our codes or standards in a legislative or regulatory process by reference is a clear public benefit - meaning NFPA forfeits copyright protection for the entire standard. It does not. Our works remain protected by copyright. If we did not have the ability to protect our copyrights, the highly efficient and effective system we have for developing them would go away.
Rigorous national safety standards protect us all from the tragedies of fires and electrical hazards. NFPA’s work has safeguarded countless lives, created economic growth, and saved billions of taxpayer dollars. But this critical, well-functioning model is under threat from special interests who want to end copyright protection for standards. If they succeed, NFPA won’t be able to continue funding our important work. That will lead to a disjointed and expensive patchwork of safety standards in the U.S. and around the world, and it will jeopardize the safety and well-being of millions of people.
This work is critical. It is up to all of us to speak up to protect the time-tested system and call out those who seek to destroy it by sharing falsehoods.