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You are here: Home Licensing 2016 letter to U.S. Copyright Office

2016 letter to U.S. Copyright Office

by Joshua Gay Contributions Published on Mar 07, 2016 01:12 PM

March 3, 2016

Kevin R. Amer
Senior Counsel for Policy and International Affairs
United States Copyright Office
Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave. SE
Washington, D.C. 20559-6009

Dear Mr. Amer:

Re: Docket No. 2015–8, Section 1201 Study: Notice and Request for Public Comment

On February 12, 2016 we spoke with your office requesting the ability to submit a comment to the United States Copyright Office in a way that did not require the use of proprietary JavaScript software via the regulations.gov Web site. We explained that as an organization, we are unable to run proprietary software from regulations.gov for moral and ethical reasons; the same reasons behind our 501(c)(3) status.

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."

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.

Further, your objection brushes aside serious moral and ethical objections that we and many thousands of free software supporters share. We object to all proprietary (or "nonfree") software, which is any software that denies users the right to study, modify or distribute modified versions of that software. Such restrictions prevent users from fully enjoying rights they should have to the programs running on their own computers. When software is proprietary, that means that some company claims ownership of it, and through that ownership claim, imposes restrictions on users as to how they can or can't use the software. When the government requires citizens to run such software, it is requiring that they accept the specific and arbitrary terms imposed by that company. Citizens should not be required to engage with any particular private company in order to participate in public proceedings or use any governmental Web sites or network service. Ensuring that users are free to study, share, modify, and reshare any software they receive is the morally right thing to do. The Free Software Foundation provides an overview of the dangers of proprietary JavaScript in particular, as well as the methods for freely licensing it, at https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/javascript-trap.

In the case of regulations.gov, the JavaScript files and other data that users are required to download come from multiple servers that are controlled by different private companies. There are several JavaScript files users are asked to download and run, and the total length of those programs exceeds 750,000 characters. These files have been "minified" and "compiled" so that they are made as short as possible, optimized to be understood by a machine, and not by a human. Having to send and receive data from multiple entities and run complex proprietary programs creates increased security risks for users. Further, it is not clear why any of this complexity is necessary, since the HTML standard makes it possible to submit a Web form without the use of JavaScript at all.

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.

Sincerely,

Joshua Gay & Donald Robertson, III
Free Software Foundation, Inc.
51 Franklin Street, Fifth Floor
Boston, MA 02110-1335
licensing@fsf.org

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