2016 comment on infrastructure to U.S. Copyright Office
Before the United States Copyright Office, Library of Congress 101 Independence Ave. SE Washington, D.C. 20559-6009 In the matter of: ) ) Information Technology ) Upgrades for a Twenty-First ) Docket No. 2016–2 Century Copyright Office ) COMMENTS BY THE FREE SOFTWARE FOUNDATION Joshua Gay & Donald Robertson, III Free Software Foundation 51 Franklin St. Fifth Floor Boston, MA 02110 March 30, 2016
On March 1, 2016, the United States Copyright Office (Copyright Office) released a public call for comment, Information Technology Upgrades for a Twenty-First Century Copyright Office (Docket No. 2016–2). In response to this call, the Free Software Foundation submits the following comment.
About the Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a charitable 501(c)(3) corporation, founded in 1985, with the mission to expand and defend computer user freedom. The FSF is the largest single contributor to the GNU operating system (used widely today in its GNU/Linux variant) and the FSF's GNU General Public License (GPL) is the most widely used free software license, covering major components of the GNU operating system and tens of thousands of other computer programs used on hundreds of millions of computers around the world. The FSF has inspired and significantly influenced numerous other initiatives focused on creating free licenses and free works, including Creative Commons and Wikipedia.
The FSF's Licensing & Compliance Lab is the preeminent resource of free licensing information for developers and publishers of free software and free documentation. The Licensing and Compliance Lab provides numerous resources and public services including: no-cost licensing consulting for developers of free works; continuing legal education workshops for the legal community; and myriad educational publications on choosing and making use of free licenses.
The Free Software Foundation applauds the United States Copyright Office plan of modernizing its IT infrastructures, to, amongst other things, "allow real-time access to the Office’s database of information about copyrighted works through an API" (Provisional Information Technology Modernization Plan and Cost Analysis, retrieved from http://www.copyright.gov/reports/itplan/ on March 30, 2016). A publicly available Web-based API will allow the public to make use of and develop new free software tools to access information from your Office.
We urge the the Copyright Office to consider putting in place a policy that requires that all software you develop or have developed for you be free software. This is especially important for any software that the office distributes or requires people to use in order to interact with the Copyright Office. Doing so is not only the right thing to do for the public, but it would also be a policy that is aligned with the White House's proposed Source Code Policy, which encourages agencies to release as free software "as much custom-developed code as possible to further the Federal Government’s commitment to transparency, participation, and collaboration" (retrieved from https://sourcecode.cio.gov/OSS/ on March 30, 2016). At present, the Copyright Office not only lacks such a policy, but, at times requires the use of proprietary software. Case in point, we are submitting to your organization a paper comment because we refuse to run the proprietary software required to submit a digital comment via regulations.gov. This is not the first time we have been told we must use proprietary software in order to submit a comment to your agency.
You responded to our request on February 16, in a letter stating that the United States Copyright Office "cannot allow submission of comments outside the regulations.gov system on the basis of your objection to the use of proprietary software." In addition, you stated that one reason your office was denying our request was that doing so may "give rise to requests for separate submission procedures from any number of groups and individuals." Then on March 10th, Jacqueline C. Charlesworth, General Counsel and Associate Register of Copyrights, emailed us to reiterate that you indeed "require comments to be submitted through regulations.gov."
However, your agency already allows two submission procedures: you do allow some people to submit comments on paper, and the rest use regulations.gov. We have simply requested the ability to submit via paper, not our own separate submission procedure.
We hope you will reconsider your decision, and either accept written comments from those who object on moral grounds to the regulations.gov system, or provide a simpler digital system that does not force the public to blindly use a particular company's proprietary software to participate. Ideally such a decision from the Copyright Office would naturally follow from a general policy that requires the development and distribution of only free software.
Joshua Gay & Donald Robertson, III Free Software Foundation, Inc. 51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor Boston, MA 02110-1335 firstname.lastname@example.org