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Civil Suit Filed, Involving the Time Zone Database 433

Posted by timothy
from the they-preferred-the-old-system dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Arthur David Olson, the creator and maintainer of the timezone database used in about every unix/linux platform in use on the planet, just sent the message to the timezone mailing list: 'A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston; I'm a defendant; the case involves the time zone database. The ftp server at elsie.nci.nih.gov has been shut down. The mailing list will be shut down after this message. Electronic mail can be sent to me at @gmail.com. I hope there will be better news shortly. --ado' A Google search does not yet reveal anything about this; does someone know what is going on?"
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Civil Suit Filed, Involving the Time Zone Database

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  • by realxmp (518717) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:50PM (#37628806)
    Just was reading http://tools.ietf.org/html/draft-lear-iana-timezone-database-04 [ietf.org] apparently it looks like Arthur Olson was planning to retire. IETF was planning to take on the custody of the role and host the list? I wonder if this is related?
  • Complaint Text (Score:5, Informative)

    by apilosov (1810) <alex@pilosoft.com> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:53PM (#37628898) Homepage

    I've pulled the complaint from PACER and uploaded it to docstoc:

    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/98231225/ACS-Atlas [docstoc.com]

  • PACER (Score:5, Informative)

    by pirodude (54707) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:54PM (#37628932) Homepage

    COMPLAINT, REQUEST FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF, RESTRAINING ORDER,
    DAMAGES AND TRIAL BY JURY
    Parties
    1. Plaintiff, Astrolabe, Inc. [hereinafter “Astrolabe”], is a for-profit
    Massachusetts corporation with a principal place of business at 350 Underpass
    Road, P.O. Box 1750, Brewster, Barnstable County, Commonwealth of
    Massachusetts 02631, and is engaged in the business of publication, marketing
    and sale, including computer software publications and/or programs
    pertaining to the field of astrology.
    2. Defendant, Arthur David Olson [hereinafter “Olson”], is an individual with a
    last and usual residence at 7406 Hancock Avenue, #2, Takoma Park,
    Maryland 20912, and with a usual an ordinary place of business as a computer
    specialist at the Laboratory of Experimental Carcinogenesis, Building 37,
    Room 4146A, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, 37
    Convent Drive, MSC 4262, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.
    3. Defendant, Paul R. Eggert [hereinafter “Eggert”], is an individual with a last
    and usual residence in the State of California, who is engaged in the business
    of computer services and programming, and employed as a lecturer with the
    University of California, Los Angeles, Computer Science Department, with a
    principal business address of: UCLA Computer Science, Box 951596,
    4532JBH, Los Angeles, Calfiornia 90095-1596.
    Case 1:11-cv-11725-GAO Document 1 Filed 09/30/11 Page 1 of 5
    Jurisdiction
    4. Pursuant to a written agreement, Astrolabe is the copyright assignee of the
    copyright owner, of certain copyright-protected computer software programs
    and information contained therein, pursuant to the Copyright Protection Act,
    17 U.S.C. Section 101, et seq., known as the “ACS Atlas,” consisting of both
    the “ACS International Atlas,” and the “ACS American Atlas,” in the form of
    computer software program(s) and/or data bases, and in the form of electronic
    output and future electronic media from said programs [hereinafter “the Works”].
    5. These atlases set forth interpretations of historical time zone information
    pertaining to innumerable locations throughout the world, based upon the
    compilation of historical research and documentation regarding applicable
    time zones officially and/or in actuality in effect, given the actual latitude and
    longitudes of specific locations throughout the world.
    6. Upon information and belief, defendants Olson and Eggert have unlawfully
    reproduced the Works, in violation of the Copyright Protection Act, without
    proper permission and/or authorization from the copyright holder, and without
    paying royalties due and payable to the copyright holder and/or its assignee,
    Astrolabe, in computer software format.
    7. Plaintiff, Astrolabe publishes, markets and sells its ACS Atlas programs (the
    Works) for commercial profit purposes to, inter alia, those interested and/or
    engaged in the business and field of astrology seeking to determine the
    historical time at any given time in any particular location, world-wide.
    8. In connection with its rights to reproduce the Works, plaintiff Astrolabe is
    contractually obligated to pay royalties to the owner/assignor of the copyright
    and the authors of the same.
    Facts
    9. Defendant Olson’s unauthorized reproduction of the Works have been
    published at ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/tzarchive.qz [nih.gov], where the references to
    historic international time zone data is replete with references to the fact that
    the source for this information is, indeed, the ACS Atlas.
    10. In connection with his unlawful publication of some and/or any portion of the
    Works, defendant Olson has wrongly and unlawfully asserted that this
    information and/or data is “in the public domain,” in violation of the
    protections afforded by the federal copyright laws.
    11. Defendant Eggert’s unauthorized repro

    • by pirodude (54707) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:56PM (#37628968) Homepage

      The document in PDF format will be here shortly:

      http://www.scribd.com/doc/67775601 [scribd.com]

    • by networkBoy (774728) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:00PM (#37629042) Homepage Journal

      he's citing sources for a collection of facts.
      How the hell is this case not already thrown out?
      Collections of facts can not be copywritten
      presentation of those facts can be, thus, since he is presenting the facts in another way he is not infringing on that.
      -nB

    • Re:PACER (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:01PM (#37629062)

      Underpass road? Sure sound like trolls to me!

    • by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:09PM (#37629242) Homepage

      "...defendant Olson has wrongly and unlawfully asserted that this information and/or data is in the public domain,"

      Under USA law all information and data is in the public domain. Only creative expression is protected by copyright.

      • by blair1q (305137) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:44PM (#37629780) Journal

        Under USA law all information and data is in the public domain. Only creative expression is protected by copyright.

        Try that with scores for NFL games. Some data is creative expression.

        This data isn't, as the atlas was created from other people's facts.

        So the problem here is that the TZ database admits it took the data from the atlas.

        Personally I see it as fair use of facts that didn't belong to the plaintiff. You'd think their lawyer would see it that way and tell them not to waste their money.

      • by djdanlib (732853) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:47PM (#37629824) Homepage

        That's news to me! I'd like to repeat it, if true, with more information than "I read it on a forum"... can you recall specifically how you heard about that?

  • by Phoenix Rising (28955) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:57PM (#37628986) Homepage

    Here's a decent and quick summary, clipped in part from the complaint. Short version: Astrolabe, Inc. has purchased the copyright to the American Atlas and is claiming that because Olson and others used the atlas as a source for some timezone information, the entire database infringes.

    http://www.thedailyparker.com/PermaLink,guid,c5f28bae-4b9c-41ea-b7b7-8891ad63c938.aspx [thedailyparker.com]

    Of course, the timezone information itself is public - the atlas only collected it.

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:05PM (#37629160) Homepage Journal

      Here's a decent and quick summary, clipped in part from the complaint. Short version: Astrolabe, Inc. has purchased the copyright to the American Atlas and is claiming that because Olson and others used the atlas as a source for some timezone information, the entire database infringes.

      http://www.thedailyparker.com/PermaLink,guid,c5f28bae-4b9c-41ea-b7b7-8891ad63c938.aspx [thedailyparker.com]

      Of course, the timezone information itself is public - the atlas only collected it.

      Reminds me of those YOU BETTER NOT COPY THIS DVD OR WE'LL CALL THE DVD LAW ON YOU AND THROW YOUR BUTT IN DVD JAIL messages I see at the start of DVDs loaded with content from the Public Domain.

    • by Guy Harris (3803) <guy@alum.mit.edu> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:09PM (#37631208)

      Here's a decent and quick summary, clipped in part from the complaint. Short version: Astrolabe, Inc. has purchased the copyright to the American Atlas

      Purchased it as in "they, rather than ACS, own it now", or licensed it, so that they're not the ultimate owners, they're just a licensee? The complaint says

      Pursuant to a written agreement, Astrolabe is the copyright assignee of the copyright owner, of certain copyright-protected computer software programs and information contained therein, pursuant to the Copyright Protection Act,17 U.S.C. Section 101, et seq., known as the “ACS Atlas,” consisting of both the “ACS International Atlas,” and the “ACS American Atlas,” in the form of computer software program(s) and/or data bases, and in the form of electronic output and future electronic media from said programs [hereinafter “the Works”].

      and

      In connection with its rights to reproduce the Works, plaintiff Astrolabe is contractually obligated to pay royalties to the owner/assignor of the copyright and the authors of the same.

      which seems to suggest the latter. If it's the latter, I don't know whether that means that Astrolabe can sue, or if ACS has to be the one suing. I'll leave that to copyright lawyers, or somebody with more time than I to look at the relevant bits of US copyright law [copyright.gov], to answer.

  • by sam_vilain (33533) <sam&vilain,net> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:57PM (#37628996) Homepage
    The source is so widely replicated it would be difficult to truly retract, for example it's here [debian.org] for those who are interested in looking at it to look for potentially infringing pieces.
  • by Pop69 (700500) <billy&benarty,co,uk> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:57PM (#37629000) Homepage
    Isn't the TZ database a collection of facts and therefore not subject to copyright protection ?

    If I'm correct then the answer to this suit should be a very short "Fuck off, Troll"
  • by Myria (562655) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:06PM (#37629168)

    Cue legal support from IBM, Apple and the EFF in 3...2...1...

  • by aneroid (856995) <aneroidNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:06PM (#37629176) Homepage Journal

    The database holds timezone information...about different timezones. Did they pay the world's governments the royalties for publishing their countries' priviliged info? That is clearly a trademark violation!

    Option B: Some company wielding a patent for a 'database schema specifically designed to maintain timezone information' is going after him --- with the added claim that by warning everyone in advance, he would be facilitating the propagation of the patented schema/design, resulting in a further patent violation.

    (imho, must be something retarded if he's a defendant and the case involves "timezones database"...too basic to be infringing; and yet important)

  • by snowbike (35353) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:19PM (#37629372)

    It is too much to hope, but what is this eliminated the use of timezones? One global clock to rule them all!!

  • by Fishbulb (32296) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:29PM (#37629540)
    Wait, wait, they're an ASTROLOGY company, not ASTRONOMY?! What, did their crystal ball tell them they'd win in court?
  • by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:32PM (#37629584)
    Can we PLEASE overhaul / ditch copyright law already? These kind of cases are getting absolutely ridiculous. Between patent trolls suing people years after the fact for something they didn't even have a patent on at the time, and trademark owners suing their own fans for making fair use derivative works, I think we can all agree that this massively hinders creativity and development of new technologies / inventions / ideas in the United States and needs to go. Now.

    That most would rather settle than pay their lawyers to defend themselves even when innocent proves that the law is extremely burdensome.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:58PM (#37630030) Homepage

    The defendant in this case should file an immediate claim for recover of damages for the down time suffered plus attorneys fees.

    It is facts being copied, not a creative work. The facts are coming from other sources -- they are not making these facts up out of thin air. That they collected and sold the facts is not relevant -- there is no blood, sweat or tears to be accounted for in copyright claims. We have seen this before in phone books, in baseball statistics and more. I can't think of a single instance where factual data was protected by copyright and succeeded in court. (I even recall an attempt at a city or county government asserting copyright claims over laws! You know, the words on pages we are all bound by?)

    So unless someone can cite a case where it was facts (and not formatting) that were successfully protected in court under copyright law, I don't think this case will fly too high.

    This will be expensive for defendants, however and so I would recommend preparing to collect damages sooner rather than later.

  • by Jaryn (880486) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @03:00PM (#37630074)

    Atlas companies have used copyright traps before.. Just add a couple fake towns on your map, and if you find another company selling a map with those towns, you know you can sue them for copying your map.

    Could a company add a fake time zone to a list of time zones, name it something funny (creative), and claim copyright infringement when it appears in a database? Since really, it's not a fact at all, the made up entry was... art?

  • ACS database (Score:3, Informative)

    by PaperGeek (1045780) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @04:51PM (#37631874) Homepage
    About 10 years ago I created a startup that used the ACS database. ACS used to stand for Astro Computing Services and they used to publish ephemera as well as several publications which allowed you to lookup timezone information. This is a fairly extensive set of data if you want to translate local time at a particular time in the past (say, someone's time of birth as recorded on a birth certificate) into UTC time. Time zones have changed, time change rules have changed (for example, double summer time was observed in England during WWII) and one of the books I used to have from ACS (published back in the 1980s) claimed that this information had been compiled from a wide variety of historical records. One possible scenario is that Olson had written permission to use some parts of the data but a troll has purchased the copyright and is trying to profit from it and pretending they don't know nothin' about no permission. That would be a crying shame since putting the data in such a compressed form that is used on countless *nix servers and devices was an immense task - the original database was an ugly conglomeration of flat files that needed quite a bit of spanking to get it into a useable format, and was certainly not within orders of magnitude of the compactness of the Olson database. Anyway, on the surface, if this is the same ACS database there is quite a lot of data involved, much of it covering historical edge conditions, but I haven't checked to see how many of the edge conditions prior to 1970 are reproduced in the Olson database. From what little I know of the way these things work, the plaintiff would have to show that there was willful infringement without permission and that some damages occurred, but there would not be any value in the ACS data unless you needed to know with great reliability whether daylight savings time was in effect, say, in some rural county in Indiana at 4:06 am on 21 October 1947 (and for that matter, what was the timezone).
  • by Descartess (2478562) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @06:17PM (#37632920)

    This is an outrageous attack against a case of perfectly legal use of published data.

    Where tzdata has used information from ACS atlas, it quotes it source (Thomas Shanks, former employee of ACS Inc, San Diego, who appears as author on the printed books American Atlas and International Atlas).
    In each case, the information published by Shanks was critically reviewed by the tzdata community. In many cases, Shanks' information was rejected, in many cases it was accepted over other contradicting (or confirming) information.

    Shanks did not create the information in his published books, he collected it from other published sources, though the books fail to name the source of the information in nearly all case.

    Relevant sources of Shanks, especially for International atlas, were
    - Gabriel, Traite de l'heure dans le Monde, Paris
    - Henri Le Corre, Regimes Horaires pour l'Eruope et l'Afrique
    - Doris Chase Doane, Time changes in the world
    - Doris Chase Doane, Time changes in the USA
    - Curran and Taylor, World daylight saving time, Chicago 1935
    many other publications appearing in the astrology domain.

    The two books by Shanks consist to 95% of lists of towns with longitude and latitude, their assignment to counties or provinces, and their assignment to timezone
    history tables. tzdata uses NOTHING of this information, as tzdata does not contain assignments of towns to zones, except the single town in each zone used for naming it.

    Shanks has about 2000 of different timezone history tables, they make up about 5% of the books volume.

    tzdata has only about 400 different timezone history tables, because tzdata is historically not complete. It is only complete for the post 1970 era (where ACS is incomplete, and where ACS newer editions have used a lot of data taken from tzdata. Legitmately without quoting the source, as tzdata is public domain.)

    Tzdata quotes Shanks for about 100 of these tables (I gues, I did not count), as one of the sources of historical timezone information.
    In each case, the data given of Shanks were critically reviewed.

    A perfectly legitimate use of published data.

    The information about which time public clocks showed at a particular date in a particular country or region is by its very nature public information. It is not subject to copyright. Shanks does not own it, he has only collected it, and he is as often false as other collectors are sometimes false.

    The use tzdata makes of such information is fully legitimate. It did by no means copy data from these books. It critically reviewed some of the information found there, and used a small amount (maybe 1% of the book content) in a completely different context and different representation.

    The attempt by Astrolabe to claim private rights on public domain data must be forcefully resisted by the tzdata community.
    I would hope that large users of tzdata, like Apple (in IOS and MAC OS-X), Redhat and other Linux distributors etc will contribute to a defense fund for Olson, and/or contribute legal assistance.

    Plus: Astrolabe has very little money

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