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US Copyright Office Considering MSIE-only website 491

wikinerd writes "The United States Copyright Office asks whether you would have any problem if you were required to use Microsoft Internet Explorer in order to pre-register a work via their website. The Norwegian government recently said no to proprietary formats, but it seems that the US government sites should be informed about the existence of non-Microsoft Web browsers, such as Firefox, Konqueror, Opera, and Safari. I have written a letter about this issue, which is posted on my blog for everyone to copy and base on it their own response. If they see how many people use alternative browsers, they'll probably reconsider and stay within the W3C standards."
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US Copyright Office Considering MSIE-only website

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  • by ReformedExCon ( 897248 ) <> on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:40AM (#13320406)
    I have a big problem with "protest form letters". On the surface it seems like a pretty good idea. Get a lot of people mobilized using an easy to duplicate form and get your collective voice heard by those in power. However, the reality is more likely to favor individually written letters that express original sentiment, or at the very least an original statement of a widely-held sentiment.

    Yes, it's bad that the copyright office wants to make the website IE-only. But look at their reasons, try to address their reasons without sounding condescending and elitist or like a victim of some huge crime. Better yet, get involved in your local politics and make a real difference in your government.

    There are many ways to make political hay. Sending form letters to your representatives is, in my opinion, one of the least productive methods of making your voice heard.
  • "and if so, why" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DingerX ( 847589 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:44AM (#13320431) Journal
    First, this is the Copyright Office, not the Patent Office.
    Second, they're not looking for, nor will they likely accept, arguments along the lines of "single-standards are dangerous". And they claim that Firefox and Safari standards are planned for the future. So you need to give them a good reason, now, not to do this.
    What are such good reasons?

    Well, for one, preregistration is for copyrighted works that "have a history of pre-release infringement". And, as a publisher in such a field, there's no way in hell you're going to expose that information to known security risks, such as MSIE. It's like starting an antitheft service for cars likely to be stolen, then requiring the owners to leave the cars in an unguarded lot with the keys in the ignition.

    Likewise, you can argue that no ultra-secure, enterprise-critical information, such as copyright pre-registration data, resides on any machine capable of running MSIE. Again, it's an issue of security. Denying this service to all but MSIE users effectively removes it from all except those who really need it.

    Now all you need is someone willing to fire off a letter in sextuplicate.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Generic Guy ( 678542 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @08:54AM (#13320481)
    the government in the past has brought an anti-trust suit against Microsoft for being a monopoly, however they themselves would help to propagate this by using their software.

    It's even worse. I work at a small law office, undergoing ECF (electronic case filing) training and conversion right now. The federal courts, you know the ones which convicted Microsoft of being a monopoly in the browser market, have issued system specs which require Internet Explorer. The mind reels.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:1, Interesting)

    by joschm0 ( 858723 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:15AM (#13320584)
    I would have thought that if the government was under the impression that Microsoft was a monopoly (true or not), they would have taken steps to help prevent adding to that situation

    You're confusing the Bush Administration with the Clinton Administration. Janet Reno, under the Clinton Adminstration, spent years trying to convict Microsoft. Then Bush gets elected and John Ashcroft refuses to impose any penalties. It's as if no trial every took place.

  • Safari (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:19AM (#13320606)
    I don't see where support for Safari is planned. I think it's worth asking them to support that browser, since it's been the default browser on Mac OS X for years. It also has 1-2% usage share, comparable to Mozilla and Netscape, both of which they're also planning on supporting. Not supporting Safari encourages the use of IE for Mac, which used to be the default browser on the Mac and has several serious unpatched security holes.
  • by PhYrE2k2 ( 806396 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:45AM (#13320792)
    And they should. Why release something half-@$$ed that works in some browsers and not others? It means they'll make their page in Frontpage and then change things until it works in other browsers- it's a hack job.

    Please- Planned means nothing. It means it might be months out when it makes no sense. I can understand Google Toolbar coming out late for Firefix (it's a whole new program), but this is HTML that should display in all browsers.

    And a large part of patents is (supposed to be) fairness to all parties. I shouldn't have to go find a Windows machine with IE to hog for a few hours and transfer all my documents over to paste into their Web form. It's something I should be able to do right away. If I can't do it, nobody should be able to (in this case). Otherwise it gives some people *cough* M$ *cough* an advantage on Patents.

    Though I'm not a fan of that guy's letter. He touts lists of acronyms like CSS, XHTML, IE, OSX, etc that the developers would know but the _managers_ won't. A simple:

    "Internet Explorer, while being used by the majority of Web users, is not used by all Web users. This is in favour of countless browsers (some of which are listed below) which offer considerable advantages to non-Windows users (Mac, Linux) as well as Windows users who are looking for superior alternates to Microsoft's Web browser. Statistics on the number of users utilizing each browser are available at http://..../ [....] Please do not underestimate the 10% of hundreds of millions of US and foreign Web users who choose to utilize alternate technologies. It is unfair to provide an advantage to Windows/Internet Explorer users over others, when it is entirely unnecessary. All Web browsers support standards, such as those set by w3c ( [] which your developers should build their Web site to conform to rather than utilize proprietary methods exclusive to IE.

    Simple, to the point, doesn't tout acronyms and explains most of them when it does. References a statistic, and really emphasizes the number of people affected and how common they are.

  • Re:Standards (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Xugumad ( 39311 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:46AM (#13320810)
    Huh? As part of a web application development team, our policy is to write to the stanadards, then tweak to make it work in as many browers as possible. Our applications may not look as fancy as some places, but so what? I'm fed up with sites insisting I use flash to access them, for example. I'm not there to drool over graphics, I'm there to get some information, and don't want to have to wrestle the interface to get at it.

    Sure, if you start playing with Javascript, you can get into a real mess, but I'd have felt that just means you should avoid Javascript.

    In particular, if a blind user comes to our website, they should see something useful. We can't simulate this perfectly, but we do test the applications in Lynx, and make sure they're usable.

    Really, what's so hard about making websites that work in standards compliant browsers?
  • You have to (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mr. Underbridge ( 666784 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @09:52AM (#13320832)
    If you understand how to correctly use html and css then your site should work with all properly written browsers. The parent is bang on the mark.

    The problem is that, thanks to MS, your perfectly designed site won't work properly with the most used browser. Remember - MS does NOT support CSS (or html) correctly to standards. They're not going to even try to pass the acid test.

    You can say that's MS's problem but it isn't - if your site doesn't render correctly for 90% of the population, then for all practical purposes you're wrong. You may be morally/ethically/ideologically right, but users don't care and neither does your employer.

    I guarantee, if you don't support MSIE, and you have a job as a web designer, and you're not working for FSF or someone'll hear from your boss. If you refuse to support MSIE, you'll get fired.

    Does that suck? Yes. Unfortunately, it's also the real world, and the people paying your bills don't give a shit. Specifically, ideology doesn't make money.

  • Re:But... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:18AM (#13320979)
    It is not just the copyright office.

    At the level of state abd county governments I'd say that over 80% have problems if you don't run Microsoft products. Most give you Word documents, and assume you are running I.E., usually with Flash.

    At least one state University, when confronted on this issue said (and I quote) "Most computers are PC's, and if someone runs some off brand machine instead, they should just buy a PC like the rest of the world"

    This statement has so many misconceptions I didn't even respond to it.
  • by whitroth ( 9367 ) <whitroth&5-cent,us> on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:19AM (#13320993) Homepage
    I read the notice, and, seeing they didn't have an official email address or Webmail site to submit comments, called them.

    I then spoke to one of the lawyers.

    She tells me that
          - this spring, Congress mandated that they set up to do this "preregistration" business online by late October;
          - that they're funded mostly by registration fees, unlike the patent office, and so do not have a huge budge;
          - they're, ahhh, somewhat behind the curve on technology (quote from nice person: "I won't say neanderthal, but..."), and
          - the department that's implementing this (direct quote) "will guarantee that the forms will work with IE, but won't guarantee that it will work with other browsers."

    I explained how, though I am very much not a Macaholic, most of the artists I have read of or know personally use Macs, which would preclude them from using this system. I also pointed out that not a single Website that takes your credit card requires IE.

    She and I had a nice conversation, and she requested that I send the letter w/ five copies. So, folks, send the letters, ASAP.


    PS I told her, at the end, that I'd heard of this on slashdot, and her response indicated that she may have heard of ./, and that she now understood why I'd said that if they had an email address for comments, their server would have crashed....
  • Writers unite... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:23AM (#13321023)
    As a writer with work already registred with Library of Congress I've lodged a formal complaint with them stating that only open standards can be accepted.

    I will pursue other registration possibilities in order to protect my copyright under the Berne Convention should this not be the case.

    I would like to ask other writers in any field to do the same.
  • Re:Interesting (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Felinoid ( 16872 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @10:33AM (#13321092) Homepage Journal
    I think he may have seen just one to many "Get IE" banners.
    You can dictate what web browser works from a personal website but a business page needs to worry about supporting the existing userbase.

    However more and more users are switching to Firefox or Opra plus a large number of people use a cell phone or PDA to surf the web when away from the computer.
    Once they find your web page dosen't work for them you've lost them as a costummer. Even if they use IE most of the time they want access ALL the time not just MOST of the time.

    If you stay away from Javascript and CSS your pritty much golden.
    However if you do use Javascript and CSS you have to be careful to only use the parts where Microsoft complys with the standards.
  • It should be illegal for any government office to do this kind of thing. I see this more and more, with documents in proprietary formats (like Word, Realplayer) and formats intended to be non-copyable (like streaming media). Any government website or document should be in the format that is best suited for automated access (for example, for gathering information for an FOIA request), from the broadest possible range of clients (browsers, etc).

    The government can't plead expense for new services at least, because there are plenty of good, cheap-or-free engines available for just about anything they need to do.

    At the very least, the existence of an adequate free alternative should be an absolute bar to creating new documents or websites in a proprietary format or accessible only to prorietary tools.

    It may even be unconstitutional, under similar arguments to those used to prevent the copyrighting of typefaces.
  • Re:RFTA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigman2003 ( 671309 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:23AM (#13321571) Homepage
    Should the Government ever use DVDs?

    Should they have used photocopiers, when Xerox was the only company that could make them?

    Mainframe computers?

    There are all types of proprietary systems that we, and the government uses every day.

    Here I am, sitting in front of my government-issued Windows computer right now. Getting ready to go into a video-conference that uses Polycom equipment, which will probably include a Powerpoint presentation.

    It is everywhere...but some people have just grabbed onto browser choice as being some sort of holy war.

  • by Rick and Roll ( 672077 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @01:31PM (#13322596)
    They have extrinsic support, obviously. Konqueror/Safari also have intrinsic support.

    The point is, though, adding support for other browsers doesn't take support away from IE.

  • Re:Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shaitand ( 626655 ) on Monday August 15, 2005 @11:03PM (#13327445) Journal
    For a corporation. The copyright office on the other hand and non-profits can certainly require standards compliance.

    Government offices are no stranger to require standards compatibility on other fronts, I see no reason for browsers to be different.

    Okay, so maybe most of the standards the government requires are created privately and adopted after much back patting in order to limit potential competition for contracts by denying competitors compliance certification. But that does not mean standards can't be used legitimately by a government office as well.

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