Berners-Lee blasts US Copyright Office

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has taken issue with the US Copyright Office over its insistence that certain online forms can only be submitted using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

In an open letter from the W3C which seeks to establish standards for web usage, Lee says that restricting submissions to a single browser is not only against the whole spirit in which the world wide web is established, it is also against the spirit of Federal Information policy.

At issue is a new ‘pre-registration’ system for establishing copyrights.

In the letter the W3C points out that ‘the single-vendor restriction will deny preregistration benefits entirely to broad classes of creators of covered copyrighted works’. It points out that Macintosh users, who are the source of a great deal of copyright material, can no longer rely on using IE as Microsoft ceased development of the browser for the platform in 2003. It also says that Linux users also have no way of submitting their pre-registrations if the IE-only policy goes ahead

Lee, who famously has received no royalties from his idea, which has transformed the world because of his commitment to openness, says, ‘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’.

It also points out that reliance on a single piece of software may be short sighted at the very least. ‘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,’ the letter says. ‘So even though a user may have a software platform which would support Internet Explorer, that service may be disabled for some reason’.

The W3C takes pains to point out that nothing in the letter should be regarded as a criticism of IE specifically and it would take issue if the Copyright Office standardised on Safari, Firefox or any other browser.

However, the letter from the founder of the web will come as an embarrassment to the Copyright Office who is not only contravening Federal guidelines, it is also contrary to the spirit of its own existence which is to encourage innovation.

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