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Call for Vendor-Neutral E-Copyright

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Tim Berners-Lee, director of the World Wide Web Consortium and inventor of the Web, spoke out late Monday against the U.S. Copyright Office’s plans to limit browser access to e-filing.

Lee said the plan to offer access to online forms only to users of IE would go against a 1998 directive from the Office of Management and Budget, which told government agencies to use standards developed by international standards bodies instead of setting their own standards.

The Copyright Office is in the process of setting up a system to let creators pre-register unpublished works that are being prepared for commercial distribution. On August 4, it requested public comment about whether requiring Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser for electronic registration would create difficulties.

Berners-Lee responded via an open letter that was hand-delivered to the Copyright Office and published on the W3C Web site.

”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,” Berners-Lee wrote.

He pointed out that the World Wide Web Consortium was formed because competition between competing browsers jeopardized broad adoption.

The proposed single-vendor pre-registration service will exclude broad classes of creators, he argued. For example, he said, the latest versions of IE are available only on the Windows platform. (The proposed system would be accessible to IE 5.1 and higher; there are such versions available for Macintosh OS X and OS 8.1 and higher.)

Moreover, according to Berners-Lee, security issues may cause users or institutions to stop using a particular browser. ”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 pre-registration system,” he wrote. ”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.”

The U.S. Copyright Office faces an October 24 2005 deadline for implementing the online pre-registration system, which was mandated by the Artists’ Rights and Theft Prevention Act of 2005. The Office said it was not ”entirely clear” whether the system would be compatible with other Web browsers when it launched. ”Support for Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, and Mozilla 1.7.7 is planned but will not be available when pre-registration goes into effect,” the request for comment said.

This article was first published on

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