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Breaking News: W3C Responds to US Copyright Office Prooposal

From: Janet Daly <janet@w3.org>
Date: Mon, 22 Aug 2005 14:37:09 -0700
Message-ID: <430A4585.1010406@w3.org>
To: w3c-news <w3c-news@w3.org>

Today, Tim Berners-Lee, director of the W3C and inventor of the Web, 
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. It's the view of the W3C that optimization 
of Web site services should be based on Web standards, not any single 
vendor's software platform. After all, that's what standards are for.

For more information, please contact the W3C Communications Team 
representative in your national region, or speak with Janet Daly 
directly, at +1 617 253 5884 <janet@w3.org>.

US Copyright Office Proposal:

W3C response, signed by Tim Berners-Lee:

The text of letter in full:

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, <timbl@w3.org>
Director, World Wide Web Consortium


Daniel J. Weitzner, <djweitzner@w3.org>
Technology and Society Domain Leader, World Wide Web Consortium

1. The 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, 

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, 

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). 
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).


World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Janet Daly, Global Communications Officer
MIT/CSAIL, Building 32-G518
32 Vassar Street
Cambridge, MA 02139

voice: 617.253.5884
fax:   617.258.5999
Received on Monday, 22 August 2005 21:37:15 UTC

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