U.S. Blues

Ars Technica posted a news item late last week that made me wonder if April 1 somehow came around twice this year. The U.S. Copyright Office wants to build a new Web site that, according to a notice posted August 1, may work only with Internet Explorer.
Ars Technica posted a news item late last week that made me wonder if April 1 somehow came around twice this year. The U.S. Copyright Office wants to build a new Web site that, according to a notice posted August 1, may work only with Internet Explorer.According to the notice, the Copyright Office must build the new site by October 24 to allow content creators to pre-register works in progress, such as films or book manuscripts. Rather than summarizing this garbage, I'll simply repeat it here, edited to resemble English:

In accordance with the Artists' Rights and Theft Prevention Act of 2005 (the ART Act) . . . the Copyright Office recently proposed implementing regulations for preregistration of eligible copyright claims.

[The ART Act] directs that preregistration procedures must be in place by October 24, 2005 . . . 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 . . . Support for Netscape 7.2, Firefox 1.0.3, and Mozilla 1.7.7 is planned but will not be available when preregistration goes into effect. Present users of these browsers may experience problems when filing claims.

According to the Ars news item, the problem is the Siebel 7.7 CRM software sitting on the back end of the proposed system. A planned Siebel 7.8 upgrade would add Firefox and Netscape support, but as the notice states, the upgrade won't be ready in time to support the preregistration app.

TechRepublic (which, ironically, itself looks like the aftermath of a train wreck when viewed using Firefox on OS X) caught up with a Siebel spokesperson who took a perfectly logical position on the screw-up. "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."

She's absolutely right: Siebel exists to make money selling software, not Web development lessons. If nitwit IT executives make technology decisions based on the assumption that the world will end in six months, Siebel is more than happy to hog tie them, take their money, and promise to come back and repeat the process once a year

As Ars concludes, there's only one place to lay the blame for this foolishness: The U.S. Copyright Office managers (or their predecessors) who approved or influenced the decision to tie the government to a proprietary Web development infrastructure.

If there's a bright side to this, it's the fact that deadlines have a way of changing when high-ranking bureaucrats -- or federal judges -- want them to change. After all, Linux users can't just bite the bullet and install Internet Explorer; if you own a Linux PC, you simply won't be able to access this system. It's not fair (a concept to which government should subscribe, even if businesses don't), it reflects an IT policy-making process that one could charitably describe as brain-dead, and for all I know, if may not even be legal.

Speaking of legal, I have a hard time believing that an IE-only site could satisfy federal guidelines for building Web sites that are fully accessible to disabled users who employ assistive technology such as screen readers. If the powers that be at the Coyright Office are vulnerable on any of these points, I'm sure some interested party's attorney will be along shortly to administer the (first) beating.

There's the windup, here's the pitch: The Copyright Office is accepting public comments on its proposed Web site . . . but only by snail mail. If you're the type who enjoys fighting City Hall, send an original and five copies of your comments to: Copyright GC/ I&R, P.O. Box 70400, Southwest Station, Washington, DC 20024-0400. Don't use FedEx or other express delivery services; anything not delivered by the Postal Service, using ungodly amounts of paper, apparently confuses these people and delays everything by days or weeks..

Something on your mind? Tell me about it -- but if you don't want me to share it with the group, be sure to say so.

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