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To read comments to this article, go here
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 http://www.w3.org/2005/08/22-w3c-prereg-standards-comments.html"
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,

/s/

Tim Berners-Lee, Director, World Wide Web Consortium

/s/

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

Notes

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." http://www.copyright.gov/fedreg/2005/70fr44878.html (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 News.com, June 13, 2003. http://news.com.com/2100-1045_3-1017126.html (accessed August 20, 2005).

3 E-Government Act of 2002, Public Law 107-347, 2 (b)(5). http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=107_cong_public_laws&docid=f:publ347.107.pdf (accessed August 20, 2005).

4 Implementing the President's Management Agenda for E-Government, E-Government Strategy, (April 2003). http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/2003egov_strat.pdf (accessed August 20, 2005).

5 OMB Circular A-119, (February 10, 1998). http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars/a119/a119.html (accessed August 20, 2005).


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