The office, a division of the Library of Congress, invited comments through Aug. 22 on an upcoming Web service for prospective copyright owners that may launch with support for only limited browsers.
"At this point in the process of developing the Copyright Office's system for online preregistration, it is not entirely clear whether the system will be compatible with Web browsers other than Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 5.1 and higher," the office said in its notice. "In order to ensure that preregistration can be implemented in a smoothly functioning and timely manner, the office now seeks comments that will assist it in determining whether any eligible parties will be prevented from preregistering a claim due to browser requirements of the preregistration system."
The Copyright Office's request for comments goes to the heart of the battle over Web market share and Web standards. Web standards advocates have long argued that inconsistencies in the way browser makers implement standards--that is, W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) recommendations--force Web developers to write different pages for individual browsers. Another concern is that Web page and application developers have to perform quality assurance testing multiple times for different browsers.
The Copyright Office site in question is a preregistration system for unpublished, commercial works-in-progress. Scheduled to launch Oct. 24, the system would let a film studio preregister a movie, for example, so that the studio could prosecute copyright violations that resulted from scenes or copies prematurely distributed over the Net before the work was complete.
In its request for comments, the office made clear that it plans to support other browsers in the future. In an interview, an attorney with the office said that the sticking point was Siebel software that guaranteed compatibility with only selected browsers--including both IE and Netscape 7.02, a browser with negligible market share--in the current Siebel 7.7 software.
The Copyright Office said it planned to upgrade to Siebel 7.8, which supports Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3 and Mozilla 1.7.7, but not in time for the Oct. 24 launch.
Neither the Copyright Office nor Siebel said they planned to support other browsers like Opera or Apple Computer's Safari.
Siebel defended its selective support of Web browsers.
"We're running a business, and testing is extremely costly," said Stacey Schneider, director of technology product marketing. "We optimize against what our customers demand. For Siebel 7.8, it became clear, especially for the government sector, that there's demand for Mozilla. But there are hundreds of vendors out there with their own browsers. And not many applications support many more than what we do."
The Copyright Office said original comments and five copies should be mailed to Copyright GC/ I&R, P.O. Box 70400, Southwest Station, Washington, D.C. 20024-0400.