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Tim Berners-Lee Sends a Letter to the US Copyright Office
Monday, August 22 2005 @ 06:17 PM EDT

Today, Tim Berners-Lee, director of the W3C and inventor of the Web, has responded to a call for comments from the US Copyright Office, regarding a proposal to restrict users to only one vendor browser in order to submit forms to that office. He raises a number of practical issues, suggesting that use of standards is the obvious solution. He makes it clear that he is not attacking IE:
The failing of the proposed implementation of the preregistration system is its lack of support for standards, not its choice of software.

He mentions security issues , which can and have arisen in connection with all browsers. As it happens, there was one yesterday involving IE, and some responded to the fact that there is currently no patch for it by suggesting that you use a different browser at least temporarily. More information on it here, including the suggestion to turn off ActiveX and use it on "trusted" web sites only. ActiveX again. Yet web designers will sometimes tell you they can't live without it. Some of us would much rather, please. I personally would trade a little less whizbang for a lot more security. But when a warning like yesterday's comes up, and a government site requires IE-only, then what do you do?

You'll notice he sent it by hand, as well as putting it on the Web. That is because tomorrow is the deadline, and they require paper letters, not email. I'm thinking the Copyright Office might like to compare the paper letter with the one on the Web. If they do, they will notice that the one they got on paper will type out where the links are to the references; on the Web, all you have to do is click. Just a suggestion.


22 August 2005

By Hand and on the Web at"
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Copyright Office
James Madison Memorial Building, Room LM-401
101 Independence Avenue, SE., Washington, DC 20559-6000

In Re: 37 CFR Part 202 [Docket No. RM 2005-9]

The United States Copyright Office has requested 1 comment on whether a requirement that certain online forms be submitted only through the use of a single vendor's World Wide Web browser, to the exclusion of any other hardware or software product or service designed to conform with Web standards. Such a policy, even if implemented for a short time, would impose a number of practical barriers on those seeking to exercise their pre-registration rights. The proposed system would be contrary to at least the spirit of Federal information policy adopted by the E-Government Act of 2002, as well as important OMB management directives regarding Federal Enterprise Architecture and the directive to use voluntary consensus standards. At the outset, we would like to stress that nothing in this letter should be construed as a criticism of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, which is one of the leading browsers in the field. We would write the same letter if the choice was to offer support solely for Mozilla Firefox, Safari, or any other product. The failing of the proposed implementation of the preregistration system is its lack of support for standards, not its choice of software.

As a background to the Copyright Office's decision to attempt to offer services over the Web without the use of standards, it is important to keep in mind the Web was born and achieved widespread use only because of a commitment to open, vendor-neutral standards. The early Web faced the threat of fragmentation through the actions of competing browser vendors. These actions actually jeopardized the broader adoption of the technology. In response to this threat, we created the World Wide Web Consortium as a global organization, currently over 390 members, for the purpose of enabling the ongoing development of Web standards. Since those early days in 1994, we have witnessed the creation of tremendous opportunities, technical, social, and commercial, the world over, in large part due to the commitments of corporate and not-for-profit entities to the development of technical standards that may be implemented in diverse settings and for diverse purposes. Since then, those content providers, software vendors and service providers who have adopted a standards-based strategy have seen benefits not possible with a proprietary approach.

Proposed Single-Vendor Preregistration Service Will Exclude Large Classes of Potential Users

From a practical perspective, the single-vendor restriction will deny preregistration benefits entirely to broad classes of creators of covered copyrighted works. The flaw in the proposed implementation of the preregistration system lies in the failure to rely on voluntary consensus standards that are widely adopted and readily suited to the task identified by the Copyright Office. To illustrate the disadvantages of departing from standards-based solutions, we will consider the impact of the specific design proposed in the Supplementary Notice. While a large proportion of the marketplace uses the Microsoft Internet Explorer to browse the Web, certain classes of users will find it either impossible or extremely inconvenient to do so. Of the three popular desktop computing platforms in use at the present -- Microsoft Windows, Apple Mac OS, and Linux/Unix -- the latest versions of Internet Explorer are only available for the Microsoft Windows family of operating systems. 2 In some cases, users or their institutions may curtail the use of a browser temporarily or permanently based on flaws in the particular software product. So even though a user may have a software platform which would support Internet Explorer, that service may be disabled for some reason. Note that this is not a problem unique to Internet Explorer. Various browsers have suffered security breaches and the response, often, is to stop using that browser either permanently or until the security bug is fixed. During that time, the user would be entirely unable to use the preregistration system. A standards-based strategy would ensure that users can continue to access Copyright Office services notwithstanding the transient security problems that are inevitable for any single piece of software and have plagued all of the popular browsers at one time or another.

While one generally considers the Web to be a service used from a desktop or laptop computer, today's Web applications are become increasingly mobile and reliant upon browsers written for cell phones, PDAs and other non-PC devices. Many of these devices come with standards-compliant Web browsers, but users often have no choice whatsoever in the type of browsing software installed. Some mobile devices are available with mobile versions of Internet Explorer, but many are not. The NPRM specifically cites the need to preregister movie dailies. It is easy to imagine that one would want to make such registration immediately upon completing a film shoot. In that case, the most practical and timely option might be to access the Copyright Office PRE form from a mobile Web-enabled cellphone or PDA. Restricting access to Internet Explorer only would then unfairly exclude those creators from the benefits of preregistration.

One of the distinct benefits of online access to government services is the increased opportunities it offers to people with disabilities. The policy of requiring use of a particular software product for accessing Copyright Office services, however, could put Web users with disabilities at a significant disadvantage. Users with disabilities often must augment their browsing software with special assistive software and/or hardware ("assistive technology"). The combination of assistive technology and Web browser that a given individual with disabilities has installed and configured may or may not be based on Internet Explorer, given the varied accessibility features of mainstream browsers. In addition, some individuals with disabilities rely on alternative browsers (for instance, "talking browsers") that are designed to meet their specific needs. Users with disabilities rely on a standards-based Web to ensure that services they access on the Web will be usable through the variety of mainstream software and specialized assistive technologies that they use. A single-vendor strategy such as that proposed here will force many disabled users to re-tool their software and hardware environment, or face exclusion from the preregistration services. The practical effect of this exclusion will not only be on content creators themselves, but also on any employees of content creation firms whose job it is to make preregistration submissions.

Single Vendor Service is Contrary to Federal Information Policy

In addition to the numerous practical impediments that the proposed vendor-specific, non-standard implementation will pose, we believe that the strategy of designing a government Web service around a specific piece of software as opposed to seeking conformance with existing and widely used voluntary industry standards is contrary to Federal information policy. Congressional enactments like the E-Government Act of 2002 clearly encourage "the use of the Internet and emerging technologies within and across Government agencies to provide citizen-centric Government information and services". 3 In implementing the policies of the E-Gov Act, the Office of Management and Budget has stated that agency policy should seek to minimize "burden on business by re-using data previously collected or using XML or other open standards to receive transmissions". 4 The recommended strategy is to "employ 'smart' buying practices to reduce acquisition and support costs, including software asset management; and increase the use of standards-compliant software". 4 According to longstanding policy (see OMB Circular A-119 5), standards compliance entails using "voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical." We can see no reason why a standards-compliant solution is impractical. If it is, there is nothing in the NPRM that explains why. Hence, we believe that the Copyright Office should reconsider its proposal to implement a single vendor solution and instead pursue a standards-based policy. This will ensure that all eligible beneficiaries will have access to Copyright Office services, and that the Office is compliant with Federal law and policy, and it is likely to save the Office money in the long run.

Respectfully submitted,


Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium


Daniel J. Weitzner, Technology and Society Domain Leader, World Wide Web Consortium


1The Supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking "seeks information whether any potential preregistration filers would have difficulties using Internet Explorer (version 5.1 or higher) to file preregistration claims." More generally, "in the interest of achieving support for browsers in the Office's preregistration processing environment, this notice inquires whether (and why) an eligible party who anticipates preregistering a claim on the electronic-only form will not be able to use Internet Explorer to do so, or will choose not to preregister if it is necessary to use Internet Explorer." (accessed August 20, 2005).

2 Some may consider the use of Internet Explorer on the Macintosh platform impractical as Microsoft announced in 2003 that it stopped development of Internet Explorer for the Macintosh. See Ian Fried, "Microsoft: No new versions of IE for Mac," CNET, June 13, 2003. (accessed August 20, 2005).

3 E-Government Act of 2002, Public Law 107-347, 2 (b)(5). (accessed August 20, 2005).

4 Implementing the President's Management Agenda for E-Government, E-Government Strategy, (April 2003). (accessed August 20, 2005).

5 OMB Circular A-119, (February 10, 1998). (accessed August 20, 2005).


Tim Berners-Lee Sends a Letter to the US Copyright Office | 81 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections here please
Authored by: AntiFUD on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 08:06 PM EDT

If you can find any - to help PJ. Thanks.

IANAL - But IAAAMotFSF(not related to Daniel Wallace) - Free to Fight FUD

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off-Topic Threads Here
Authored by: pscottdv on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 08:07 PM EDT

[ Reply to This | # ]

What about US-CERT?
Authored by: alansz on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 08:49 PM EDT
Let's not forget, even the US Dept of Homeland Security was suggesting switching web browsers from IE in June 2004. Link here

[ Reply to This | # ]

What's so special about the site?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 08:51 PM EDT
I have never used the website that this article refers to, so this is a stupid
question, but what is so special about the site? What kind of things do they do
that make it hard to program their scripts? Are they being lazy or do they do
something special?

If they do something really special then I could see how the different browsers
could be annoying. Even at that, the response of a government office should be
to support a browser that implements standards not defines its own.

Sorry to post anonymously, I am away from my home computer at the moment.

[ Reply to This | # ]

And what if Microsoft stop IE?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 09:24 PM EDT
I wonder if the Patent Office considered the possibility that Microsoft might
not ship IE forever, or even that Microsoft might not exist forever?

The standards involved though, will not disappear.

Vik :v)

[ Reply to This | # ]

IE on Mac OS X
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 10:10 PM EDT
As of Mac OS X.4, Apple no longer ships IE with the OS. If you want IE on the
latest version of OS X, then you'll have to go to
to get a copy.

Even this may not work, as Apple is not holding OS X development up to make
sure it's still compatable with IE 5.2 (the last version from Microsoft). If a
release of OS X breaks compatablility, then you're out of luck since Microsoft
already informed everyone that they will no longer be working on the Mac

[ Reply to This | # ]

Geez, who does this guy think he is?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 10:35 PM EDT
Does he think he invented the Web or something? I mean everyone knows that only
MSIE is used anymore. Who cares about anything non-microsoft? Who cares about
a bunch of long haired hippies who sit around making standards when we have
MSIE, the DE-FACTO standard!

For those of you who cant tell, I am being sarcastic. On a more serious note, I
wonder if the Copyright office will listen to someone with the credentials of
the esteemed Sir Berners-Lee. Honestly, I don't know anymore. It looks more
and more like congress and the Copyright office just care about serving the

[ Reply to This | # ]

Anyone else shaking their heads in disbelief?
Authored by: Shakyrie on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 11:31 PM EDT
Working for a governmental organization I, and my associates, are told we have
to make our sites compatible with several different browsers and quite a few
pieces of Assistive Technology with the full realization that not everyone on
the planet is without impairment and/or using Internet Explorer. I am appalled
at the lack of foresight on the part of the office that is supposed to serve as
a conduit for, and have an intimate understanding of, innovation and what goes
into it. How ironic that they cannot manage to innovate an adequate solution for
themselves and those who would like to use their services. It is fortunate that
at least Tim Berners-Lee would write a so well tempered yet very clear letter on
why this is all a problem. I just hope it is heeded.

[ Reply to This | # ]

As a handicapped individual...
Authored by: Nonad on Monday, August 22 2005 @ 11:40 PM EDT
...I would strongly suggest that Section 508 requirements be met by the office's new pre-reg psges...

Tim briefly touches on the edges of handicapped access, but Section 508 (1998) makes such things an actual part of the Federal Procurement Regulations

To quote another site:

"Section 508" refers specifically to Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended by the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. The law requires Federal agencies to purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible to employees with disabilities, and to the extent that those agencies provide information technology to the public, it too shall be accessible by persons with disabilities.

Actually Section 508 was included in an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act in 1986, with the requirement that the Federal Government provide accessible technology to employees and to the public. But the 1986 version provided no guidance for determining accessibility of information technology and there were no enforcement procedures.

The 1998 amendment addressed both these issues. The Access Board (the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) was assigned the task of determining standards for accessible electronic and information technology. Although the law applies to the development, procurement, maintenance, or use of all electronic and information technology, it is in the procurement where the enforcement lies.

The result of the effort by the Access Board is a set of standards for accessible electronic and information technology. That document includes an extensive discussion on the development of the standards. The specific standards address:

* Software applications and operating systems (1194.21)
* Web-based intranet and internet information and applications (1194.22)
* Telecommunications products (1194.23)
* Video or multimedia products (1194.24)
* Self-contained closed products such as copiers (1194.25)
* Desktop and portable computers (1194.26)

Section 508 Comparison

Information directly from the Board's site is available here:

Access is difficult enough for those with some handicaps, to increase that difficulty by failing to follow standards, guidelines, and government regulations is unacceptable.

Nonad the Nomad

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tim Berners-Lee Sends a Letter to the US Copyright Office
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 23 2005 @ 12:02 AM EDT
You guys have this all wrong.

This "preregistration" website is a boondoggle for multi-mega-rich
corporations, and the people who have to implement it know this.

In addition to catering to Congress' whims to pet the hand that feeds Congress,
these website implementors probably have real work to do as well.

When they realized what a narrow focus this website would have, someone said
"hey, there are only three customers in the world who care about this
stuff. Let's give it to the intern and let him use FrontPage."

Then someone else realized that they should ask those customers if it was OK,
and, realistically, I'm sure it would be, but NOOOOOO! all the party-poopers at
Groklaw who have no need, no business, and no intention of EVER USING this site
decided to get their knickers in a twist and even stirred up things so much that
the W3C, bless their hearts, got involved.

I know the tinfoil-hat-crowd among you think this one of those "Camel's
nose, this is tent... Tent, this is Camel's nose" moments, and you may
actually be right about that.

The whole problem here is that government, which is supposed to be responsive to
the needs of their constituents, actually asked for PERMISSION, rather than
FORGIVENESS. If they had just gone and implemented the site, no one would have
known or cared, but since they asked for permission, the self-appointed
watchdogs have to body slam them into submission JUST IN CASE it is a Camel's
nose/tent kind of deal.

Don't get me wrong. I think once the question was asked, the answer is fairly
obvious, but I really do believe that in this instance, it was silly of them to
ask the question rather than just slap together any old site for the studios.

Personally, I was hoping they would build something easily hacked, so that we
could get our next movie previews straight from the government, but now you've
made them go and think about all sorts of things, and they'll have to dump IIS
for Apache.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tim Berners-Lee Sends a Letter to the US Copyright Office
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 23 2005 @ 07:38 AM EDT
We used Firefox on Ubuntu to access Delta
airlines to print out boarding passes from
home this weekend. So simple, no problems.
What is wrong with the US government that
they can't be just as flexible?


[ Reply to This | # ]

So, is there a conflict here?
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 23 2005 @ 01:26 PM EDT
It seems to me that if a certain corporation that has previously been convicted
of illegally leveraging it browser monopoly, is filing 3500 patents a year, has
a long history of infringement suits filed against them and is lobbying heavily
for a 'first to file' patent system, then someone should question having a
preregistration process that is designed to give large corporations an edge in
the application process implemented ONLY with a product provided by that same

Isn't there a fundamental conflict of interest in that scenario? Especially
when said browser has a proven track record of security holes, spyware and
questionable browser monitoring activities.

[ Reply to This | # ]

A really poor letter
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 23 2005 @ 04:39 PM EDT

Berners-Lee's letter is a very sloppy piece of work. Such a poorly-presented argument may well do more harm than good. Following are just the more obvious points which halfway-competent proofreading should have corrected:

  1. The link is broken, not just in Groklaw but on the web page. The text of the link is correct but if you click on it, it takes you to ...w3c-preg-standards... instead of to ...w3c-prereg-standards...
  2. The first 'sentence' isn't a sentence. "The United States Copyright Office has requested [1] comment on whether ..." Whether what does what? If you actually read it, you'll find it simply doesn't make sense.
  3. Second paragraph: "it is important to keep in mind the Web was born...". At least we can tell what is meant here, but the word 'that' is required.
  4. As a purely technical matter, the comments about using the registration form from a web-enabled cell phone are not appropriate. It is possible, and probably perfectly reasonable, to create a registration form that is fully standards-compliant, but which requires a larger display than a typical cell phone for effective use.

[ Reply to This | # ]

I wonder
Authored by: grayhawk on Wednesday, August 24 2005 @ 01:03 AM EDT
Where did the line come from "government for the people by the
people". It seems that governments and their ministries, offices, et al,
seem to forget that they are here to serve the needs of the public and not
corporations. They are also to serve the needs equally for everyone and not
just some. So any method they employ to allow access to governmental services
must be methods that ALL can employ in some manner and not just some. There
must be no preferential treatment based on any criteria such as, wealth, colour,
religion, sex, and so on. So governments, when employing software as the means
of contact must insure open standards so that all can use those means for
contact. That's my two cents worth.

All ships are safe in a harbour but that is not where they were meant to be.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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