W3C objects to US Copyright Office's browser plan

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is protesting a proposal by the US Copyright Office that may temporarily require online forms to be submitted using only Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser or Netscape browsers.

"The proposed system would be contrary to at least the spirit of federal information policy adopted by the E-Government Act of 2002," said W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner, who is technology and society domain leader at W3C, in a letter to the office.

The proposal pertains to preregistration of copyright claims filed with the copyright agency.

Support for Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3 and Mozilla 1.7.7 is planned by the office, but initial support may be limited to Internet Explorer and Netscape, according to Julia Huff, the Copyright Office's chief operating officer.

"The Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005 required us to create a preregistration system for certain works, and we have to have that system up and running by Oct 24," Huff said. "The system that we're building is being built with commercially available off-the-shelf software from Siebel Systems, and the manufacturer has already tested the software with IE and Netscape and it worked well with those browsers. It may work well with other browsers, but they haven't tested those yet with the version of the Siebel software we're using right now."

Huff said the Copyright Office next year plans to switch to a newer version of Siebel software that supports a newer version of Netscape and as well as FireFox and Mozilla.

"And we are actually already doing some preliminary testing with [Apple Computer's] Safari Web browser, and it works with one exception," she said. "With a little configuration, we may be able to use other browsers [now], but we cannot promise that. We may have to move ahead just using IE and Netscape, because we're not making the transition to a newer version of Siebel until we're further along with our development of our overall registration system, which we will roll out in early 2007."

Huff said her office wanted to make its system available to as many people using as many browsers as practical, but right now, it is under a tight time constraint. "The reason we went out with the supplemental inquiry was to see if it was necessary to create a paper-based application as well -- something we didn't want to do," Huff said.

While stressing that the W3C is not criticising Internet Explorer, the W3C officials said the office would be placing limitations on users of the Mac OS, Linux and Unix, who may have incompatible browsers. Cell phone and PDA users and persons with disabilities also may be affected, Berners-Lee said.

"From a practical perspective, the single-vendor restriction will deny preregistration benefits entirely to broad classes of creators of covered copyrighted works," the W3C officials said.

The W3C also stressed that the Web "was born and achieved widespread use only because of a commitment to open, vendor-neutral standards."

The Copyright Office sought comments on its plans through Monday. Additional public comments in response to what has already been submitted are due by September 7. Information for submitting comments is available online.

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