New Web copyright tool to exclude non-IE users

Copyright Office says it can't ensure that a planned system for preregistering creative works will work with other browsers.

Anne Broache Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Anne Broache
covers Capitol Hill goings-on and technology policy from Washington, D.C.
Anne Broache
3 min read
Only users of Internet Explorer and a version of Netscape will be able to access a copyright preregistration system slated for launch in late October.

"Other browsers may work well with the version we are using now, but they have not been tested," Julia Huff, the U.S. Copyright Office's chief operating officer, said in an e-mail to CNET News.com. "Because of our tight schedule and resources, we cannot do that testing now."

Huff said Friday that the office must go ahead with the new electronic system by Oct. 24 because of a mandate in the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act, which Congress passed in April. The office just weeks ago suggested the possibility of browser limitations and began collecting public comments.

The idea behind the preregistration system is to let people stake claims on their as-yet unpublished creative works. For example, a moviemaker who preregistered a film would be able to go after those who prematurely release scenes or copies of the work.

Though the law set a deadline for the office to come up with regulations for the preregistration system, it did not explicitly call for an electronic approach. Huff said the office decided to pursue the electronic route because of its "short implementation time."

Copyright officials learned in the past few months that the planned online system, developed by Siebel Systems, had been tested only with Internet Explorer 5.1 or higher and Netscape Navigator 7.0.2, Huff said. The office doesn't plan to support Firefox until it rolls out a new version of the software in late 2006. It has made no mention of plans to support Opera or Apple Computer's Safari.

According to statistics compiled by W3Schools, the two latest versions of Internet Explorer combined enjoyed more than two-thirds of the market share in August. Firefox garnered about 19 percent of users, and Netscape recorded less than 1 percent.

"There was, and is, no intent to endorse a particular vendor," Huff said.

But even if that wasn't the intent, industry groups argued, the office should rethink the move, which could effectively hamper consumer choice.

"By designing a system to open standards rather than the specifications of individual applications, the office will further its function and improve users' experiences, while promoting the vitality of the software market by not 'picking winners,'" representatives from the nonprofit Open Source and Industry Alliance, part of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, wrote in comments filed with the Copyright Office.

The organizations also urged the Copyright Office to be prepared to accept paper applications until it can make the system work for a broader swath of browsers. Huff said the office will evaluate the comments received before deciding whether to employ the paper option.

The World Wide Web Consortium, a global organization that encourages development of Web standards, said in its comments that going ahead with the limited version is contrary to the federal "e-government" strategy.

"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,'" wrote W3C director Tim Berners-Lee, quoting from 2003 government recommendations.

And what about the moviemaker who wants to register his work from the set, using a Web-enabled cell phone? Not all such devices carry the Microsoft browser, Berners-Lee argued: "Restricting access to Internet Explorer only would then unfairly exclude those creators from the benefits of preregistration."