In its last year of life, the NCPA internet site was receiving 150,598 visits every month by 78,194 unique visitors who looked at 850,122 pages. Those visitors came from more than 190 countries. Importantly, 94% of this traffic came via a bookmark, a link in an email or a direct address. There were more than 15,000 instances per month where the access was from a link on another website.
Based on ad value alone, the NCPA’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) estimates that the monetary value of this kind of traffic is equal to $20,622 per month, or $247,462 per year.
Rather than capitalize on this value, the defendants sold the NCPA’s domain name to the National Community Pharmacists Association for a mere $7,500 — knowing that the pharmacists intended to convert the web page for their own use. When they did that, the URL links to thousands of NCPA documents by writers, journalists, researchers, congressional and legislative offices and other think tanks were broken.
The Assets. Over a period of three decades, writers, researchers, reporters, congressional aides, members and staffers of state legislatures and city councils, other think tanks, teachers, students, academics and other interested individuals created links to NCPA’s online material. These included links to books, studies, backgrounders, brief analyses, speeches, conferences, briefings, radio and TV appearances and other documents. They created hot links and copied NCPA URL addresses into their books, articles, essays, editorials, blog posts, social media and in other venues.
Through these links, the NCPA functioned as a bona fide source of information for tens of thousands and perhaps even millions of people. The NCPA URL addresses include:
- More than 270,000 links to text documents.
- More than 25,000 links to charts and graphs.
- More than 700 videos.
- And more than 800 photographic images
This intellectual property was created over a 34-year period and was funded by more than $125 million in voluntary contributions.
Destruction of the Assets. Virtually all the NCPA documents existed only online. But the NCPA directors made no attempt whatsoever to copy them or preserve them in any way. That means they were accessible only through their URL addresses. So, when the pharmacists converted ncpa.org to their own use (thereby automatically severing all other think tank-related links), all the links described above were destroyed.
Because the links no longer worked, these documents were no longer widely disseminated and widely used. They literally disappeared from the Internet.
Take the assets the NCPA considered especially valuable in its solicitation of bids. After selling the domain name to the pharmacists:
- 35 years of public policy research disappeared from the Internet
- Debate Central disappeared from the Internet
- The Young Patriots Essay contest disappeared from the Internet
Also vanishing were:
Daily Policy Digest. This program summarized public policy research results on a daily basis, and it had the largest searchable database for such research found anywhere. It was truly a unique resource. For example, if you entered the words “minimum wage” in DPD’s search engine, you could discover every bit of research on the subject NCPA scholars consider worthwhile over the past 20 years. Now it’s gone.
Health Policy Blog. This was by far the leading right-of-center health policy blog on the Internet. It attracted comments and commentary by the leading health policy scholars on both the right and the left. The interactions were one-of-their kind and irreplaceable. Now they’re gone.
Intent. The dissolution specialist Reagan Stewart and the NCPA lawyer Dee Ruckman were fully briefed on the consequences of selling the domain name to the pharmacists by John Goodman and his attorney – weeks before the final sale. They knew that Goodman was offering a higher bid than the pharmacists (as much as $300,000) and they knew that if Goodman was the buyer, he intended to preserve all of the links the pharmacists intended to destroy. These two individuals were apparently in regular communication with NCPA board chairman Steve Ivy.
Bottom line: the NCPA decision-makers knew what they were doing, and they knew the consequences. They might have mitigated the damage they were about to do by at least copying the NCPA documents and preserving them. They chose not to.
What About other Retrieval Services? Wayback Machine is a retrieval service that through the years copied about 5% of the NCPA URL addresses. However, this is a small slice of the NCPA’s total content, and it appears that almost all of these links no longer work.
A Covert Move to Prevent Total Destruction. Unbeknownst to the NCPA board and without any request from anyone, the Internet Service Provider (IPS) copied virtually all of the NCPA online documents. He did so because he regarded the NCPA directors’ planned destruction of years of cumulative research and their intent on wasting the investment of millions of donor dollars as unconscionable.
The documents can now be found at http://www.ncpathinktank.org/pdfs/, as part of a web site being maintained by the ISP for former NCPA board member Larry Wedekind.
The Value of What Has Been Saved. While the ISP’s actions are fortuitous, the value of the documents today is perhaps only about 5% of their value before Ivy and Stewart allowed their Internet access to be destroyed. Here is why:
- All the links mentioned in the first paragraph above have been severed.
- Most of the people who bookmarked the NCPA URLs and established links to NCPA publications have no idea their links have been broken; when the find out, they will have no idea now to restore them.
- Nor can anyone alert them and correct their web addresses because no one knows who they are or where they kept their bookmarks.
- The Google search engine ranks sites based on their historical archives. An organization with a long history and a record of substantial traffic is rated much higher than a new entity with no history and no traffic.
- So, a study that might have appeared on page 1 in a Google search with its NCPA URL in the past, could easily show up on page 25 with a new URL today.
- Google, by the way, is like a third-party referral in sales. High rankings in Google are highly prized by everyone who puts content on the internet.
- Even if researchers or congressional aides know the exact title and the precise authorship of an NCPA study, it is unlikely they will be able to find it in any reasonable period of time today.
60 Minutes, on May 20, devoted a lengthy segment to Google, in which they explained that if a document does not show up on page 1 in a search, it is unlikely that anyone will ever see it.
Even if someone managed to find the Wedekind site by chance, a search for a single document would be extremely difficult. This is because the Wedekind site has no search engine and no organization of documents (by subject or by author) comparable to what the NCPA once had. To do that would require a considerable investment of time and money. That’s not likely to happen until certain legal issues are resolved.
Legal Status of the Documents. Technically, the NCPA (as represented by the NCPA’s Appointed Receiver) and John Goodman own the NCPA documents the IPS has preserved. (Goodman owns the copyright on every document for which he is an author.) However, neither party owns the IPS’s electronic copies of those documents, and neither party owns the current links to those documents. When the NCPA quit paying the ISP, it basically abandoned its own web site. The ISP has no obligation to the NCPA – contractually, financially or otherwise.
As of today, the IPS is under no obligation to anyone to preserve electronic copies of the documents or their URL addresses.
In selling the domain name to the pharmacists, the decision makers: