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The U.S. Copyright Office requiring proprietary software in DMCA anti-circumvention study

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Feb 25, 2016 02:27 PM
In Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) anti-circumvention study, the U.S. Copyright Office extends comment period and asserts that proprietary software is required for comment submission.

Last week, working with our Defective By Design team, we asked people to co-sign a comment that we, the Free Software Foundation (FSF), will be submitting to the U.S. Copyright Office for their study of the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA (17 U.S.C. 1201). Our comment sends a simple and clear message: the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions, including the triennial exemption granting process, are broken beyond repair and the only way to fix this law is to repeal it altogether. The Copyright Office has extended the comment period, and so our comment is now open for public co-signing until noon EST (5pm UTC) on March 2nd. The DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions threaten computer-users with legal consequences for bypassing digital restrictions management (DRM) and individuals can face criminal penalties for sharing software designed to bypass particular DRM technologies. Will you co-sign our comment and join us in taking a stand against this attack on freedom and declare that you too want to see an end to the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions?

When we published our comment and put out our call for co-signers, we were still waiting to hear back from the Copyright Office for instructions on where we could send a printed copy of our comment or an alternate way to submit a digital copy. Specifically, we asked for a medium or method of submitting a comment that did not require running proprietary JavaScript. We have now gotten a reply from them, and it is very disappointing news. They have denied our request to submit our comment on paper or digitally without the use of proprietary software, stating: "we cannot allow submission of comments outside the system on the basis of your objection to the use of proprietary software."

Like any other program, JavaScript is software you download and run on your computer, and so you deserve to have control over that program, which means that it should be provided to you under a free software license. The JavaScript served by is non-trivial and very complex proprietary software. In fact, after downloading the first few JavaScript files from, we found that these files alone totaled over 740,000 characters in length. These are minified JavaScript files, which unlike source files, do not contain long variable names or comments, etc. To put this in perspective, the feature rich, popular, and mature jQuery JavaScript library, when minified, is only 97,403 characters in length. It's not clear what the JavaScript on does or why it is necessary or useful. All we know is that it is required to download and run on your computer if you want to submit a comment through the site. We have previously tried to persuade to eliminate the proprietary JavaScript from their site, and have urged them that if they will not release it as free software, to at least make it so you do not have to run it in order to submit a comment.

Regardless of whether chooses to fix this problem, it is troubling that the U.S. Copyright Office won't even acknowledge that a citizen's refusal to run proprietary software is a reasonable choice. The public should be able to communicate with government agencies without being forced to use proprietary software which is owned and controlled by some corporation. It's like saying that individuals have to be wearing Nike brand sneakers in order to have a meeting with their congressperson -- with the additional complication that the software also directly violates individuals' freedoms.

As such, our plan is to deliver our comment (with signatures) by hand to the U.S. Copyright Office next Thursday, March 3rd, and alongside this, we will also deliver a letter that explains why they should not require proprietary JavaScript to submit comments.

Here is what you can do to help:

  • If you are in the U.S. or are a U.S. citizen living in another country, co-sign our comment and encourage others to do the same.

  • Email our campaigns manager, Zak Rogoff, at by Tuesday, March 1st, to let us know if you would like to join us in Washington D.C. to deliver the letter on March 3rd.

  • Make a donation to support our work defending computer user freedom and our campaign to oppose DRM.

  • If you are neither living in the U.S. nor a U.S. citizen living abroad, please join our Free JavaScript Action Team and take action against the government agencies in your own country that require the use of non-free JavaScript.

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