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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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    • Astrology (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:52PM (#37628882) Homepage Journal
      Would that happen to be the same Astrolabe Inc. behind this company selling astrology software [alabe.com]?
      • by jd (1658) <.imipak. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:06PM (#37629172) Homepage Journal

        Maybe they ran a prediction and it told them they would win.

        • by marxmarv (30295) on Friday October 07, 2011 @01:52PM (#37641474) Homepage

          Speaking as an astrologer, it would be interesting to know the precise time, date and place the suit was filed... I would absolutely expect that they'd time their initial filing to their own favor. Even though I don't read horary well at all, assuming Boston at high noon leads to interesting interpretations: The ruler of the 1st house (the plaintiff) in the 5th house (speculation) and being Jupiter (expansion) well-aspected by Pluto (The Man) certainly suggests abuse of power, a bit of recklessness or that someone's looking for a windfall. The ruler of the 7th house (the defendant) in the 10th (status, exemplar) and afflicted by several difficult aspects from Saturn, Uranus and the aforementioned Pluto doesn't bode well for the defendants, though Mars (the action principle) certainly works more toward their favor than Astrolabe's.

          So, basically, if Astrolabe catches the attention of Anonymous, they will be fucked sooooo hard they won't even KNOW what time it is.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That would be the one - http://alabe.com/alabedirections.html. Same address as listed below in complaint.

      • by PatentMagus (1083289) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:58PM (#37630040)
        Whoever related this to the SCO litigation is closer than he knows. The timezone database has been widely hosted and replicated - most notably on *.gov servers. A finding of copyright infringement could allow the plaintiff to collect against all sorts of entities - including the US government. I also suspect that statutory damages are possible. So, winning this case would be a massive massive payday.

        The defenses include that the data itself is factual and that the atlas data itself has been used openly and notoriously for so many years that the copyright is extinguished by laches. Something that can add strength to the defense is that the form (as in formatting, data storage, etc.) of the factual data is different.

        Regardless of all that, this case could get pushed pretty far through the appeals process. Those US government pockets are deep are about as deep as they get. Someone also mentioned IBM's bug squashing abilities. Has the database been hosted off a *.ibm.com location?

        For those wanting to check out the case law, the place to start is:
        Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991)

        In a more open source centric mode, has anyone thrown down a web site for gathering timezone info?
      • Ugh, astrolabe smells horrible, but some women swear by it.

        Ohhh...

    • by idontgno (624372) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:54PM (#37628930) Journal

      This blog article [thedailyparker.com] has an analysis of the action. It appears, essentially, that Astrolabe publishes an altas that the tz database is based on (in terms of reproducing time zone information from the atlas in the db):

      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.

      I thought the issue of whether you could copyright facts (e.g., phone numbers, timezone values for specific locations) was already settled law.

      • by Tridus (79566) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:00PM (#37629048) Homepage

        This is America, lawyers don't bother with minor details like the law before filing lawsuits. There's lawyer fees to be made!

      • by grimmjeeper (2301232) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:00PM (#37629052)

        The law may be settled but that doesn't stop people from filing suit anyway. They may either think they have a notable enough exception or they're just working with a lawyer who knows he's going to lose but is getting paid to do what the client tells him to do (after doing his due diligence of informing them of the probable outcome).

        • While the outcome may be obvious, there's still a strategic advantage of stringing the whole thing out. The idea being that if you have deeper pockets, you'll force your opponent into bankruptcy. Sacrifice your own money to bleed them dry.

          • by Myria (562655)

            While the outcome may be obvious, there's still a strategic advantage of stringing the whole thing out. The idea being that if you have deeper pockets, you'll force your opponent into bankruptcy. Sacrifice your own money to bleed them dry.

            I have a feeling that their lawyer isn't quite aware of the hornet's nest she's stirred up here. The zoneinfo database is pretty much everywhere outside of Windows. There's even a copy on my iPhone. She's indirectly picked a fight with the largest corporation in America.

            • by jythie (914043)
              Which can actually be a 'good' tactic. I recall years ago there was a troll that had a patent on some web technology that many huge companies were using, but they only went after low margin adult sites that were willing to settle rather then go to court, which gave them both a war chest and precedent to take on the larger companies later.
          • by Phoenix Rising (28955) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:31PM (#37629562) Homepage

            Which opponent does Astrolabe think they'll force into bankruptcy? This move is sure to draw in the orbital lawyer brigades from IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Red Hat and pretty much every other OS and device manufacturer in today's tech world. Maybe they thought they'd start small with Olson, but the presiding judge is going to soon be overwhelmed with amicae briefs.

            • by Myria (562655)

              Microsoft

              I'm fairly sure that Windows does not use the zoneinfo database. Their time zone list is organized in a very different way, and it doesn't even use the time zone names the Unix world is used to, like America/New_York.

              But pretty much everyone else does.

            • by mcmonkey (96054)

              Which opponent does Astrolabe think they'll force into bankruptcy? This move is sure to draw in the orbital lawyer brigades from IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Red Hat and pretty much every other OS and device manufacturer in today's tech world. Maybe they thought they'd start small with Olson, but the presiding judge is going to soon be overwhelmed with amicae briefs.

              You're looking at this from the wrong angle. It's not Astroglide^H^H^H^H^Hlabe v. the world. It's Astrolabe's lawyers v. the Astrolabe bank account. The lawyers aren't looking to win the case, they're looking to maximize billing hours.

          • Does IBM use time zone info? They're pretty good at squashing insects.

      • I thought the issue of whether you could copyright facts (e.g., phone numbers, timezone values for specific locations) was already settled law.

        I think facts are different than 'facts arranged in a database'.

        Ever written a database...? It's a non-zero time event. I'd
        want to get paid if someone used a db I created.

        *Mind you I'm not making a direct statement about the
        pending lawsuit since it seems there isn't much info.

        -AI

        • by julesh (229690) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:06PM (#37629184)

          The facts were, to all appearances, copied out of a book and inserted into a database by the defendant. No selection was applied at any point; the time zones for every recognized country is included in both sources, so I don't think there's any argument that creativity is involved. I don't think database right applies here.

          • That's a good point, and I would case the whole case will center around that issue.. Thanks for pointing it out so clearly.

          • by imp (7585)

            Actually, the work is transformative. The form of the facts was changed from the form in the book to the form in the database. Creativity was certainly involved there.

            But that misses the point. It is 100% legal to copy phone books verbatim with no transformative work because they are just tables of facts. It isn't clear that these tables of facts even qualify for copyright protection at all, since they are very similar to telephone numbers and addresses listed in phone books.

        • With that argument, I could make a database filled with the real number line from 1...n and copyright that because it took work to fill the database.

          Think of the profits I could make....

          • by spud603 (832173)
            Please do it!
            If you managed to create a database with every real number between 1 and n, for any value of n, (not just a program that can generate arbitrarily precise real numbers from that range) you would deserve a lot more than a copyright.
        • I think facts are different than 'facts arranged in a database'.

          Not in U.S. [wikipedia.org]

      • by Surt (22457)

        But whether or not any given defendant will surrender before fighting you for years to verify that is an open question.

      • I believe it is possible to assert copyright on the formats in which the facts are presented, which may be the problem in this case. I don't know enough to say, but if they aren't just copying facts but structures containing the facts (and what fact doesn't have a structure?) there could be grounds..

      • by kevin lyda (4803)

        I emailed their sales department to inform them that I would be actively encouraging people to avoid their products.

        http://alabe.com/contact.html [alabe.com]

        Of course they peddle astrology shit so it's not like I'd buy from them anyway.

      • by Ghostworks (991012) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:28PM (#37629526)

        As usual, IANAL, but...

        The trouble is, you now CAN copyright databases. It's been made explicit in EU law, but I think it's still defensible under US law. The idea is that the organization of facts is copyrightable (take for example, encyclopedias, atlases, etc.). The trouble is, copyright transcends specific media, while a database separated from a specific medium is a mundane collection of facts. The argument here is that Olson's TZ database just cribbed Thomas Shanks' atlas.

        This seems like it's troll action. They're not going to be able to get anything of value out of Olson, so they probably want to get a judgment against him as leverage for payments from companies that uses the timezone database through Linux. On the other hand, those companies would be insane not to just bankroll Olson's defense. It's seems like a pretty weak case in a gray area, so it could go either way. Since Olson has announced his desire to retire from the project, I guess this was a "now or never" opportunity for the trolls.

        As a side note, the infowars portion of the suit has begun. The reference to Shanks on the "Tz database" page was added as close to the top as could be managed by user JulDes on Sept. 3, which seems to be the day the account was created. As of May 2006, "Thomas Shanks" on Wikipedia redirected to Irish footballer Tommy Shanks. As of One month ago, it now instead has information on the otherwise unknown author of the American Atlas, 1978, ACS publications. The editing account, "TZ Master" seems to have been created expressly for the purpose 5 minutes earlier.

    • About Astrology software? I have no idea how this could work. Only thing I can find is http://www.alabe.com/ [alabe.com], but I have no idea how that could be tied to the timezone database. Then again, filing a lawsuit requires absolutely nothing more than the desire to file a lawsuit.

      • I can't help you there but I've got a hot time from their website, it's a good time to meet females!

        Applying Moon Trine Mercury
        Communications flow smoothly now. Feelings and emotions are expressed naturally. It's a good time for meetings with females.

        • Even better. It applies to us!

          Applying Venus Trine Neptune
          This transit stimulates artistic creativity, spiritual inclinations, and romantic interests. Rules and restrictions are relaxed and there is compassion for the less fortunate.

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        because astrologers are one group of people who do give a shit about historic timezone information and hence keep a database of it that they claim was copied.

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        Then again, filing a lawsuit requires absolutely nothing more than the desire to file a lawsuit.

        That is not true. You also have to pay a filing fee.

  • 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?
    • Might be a shakedown.. IETF probably has deeper pockets than ado and may have motivation to make this go away so they can keep the thing running.

  • 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]

    • Re:Complaint Text (Score:4, Interesting)

      by apilosov (1810) <alex@pilosoft.com> on Thursday October 06, 2011 @01:58PM (#37629006) Homepage

      So, it appears that ACS is trying to claim copyright on the timezone historical data that they've compiled - and that's used in the TZ database.

      Under Feist v Rural, information which has no "creative expression" is not copyright-able - but in this case, Olson can easily claim it doesn't apply.

      This will be interesting.

    • Re:Complaint Text (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Qzukk (229616) on Thursday October 06, 2011 @02:04PM (#37629142) Journal

      OK, so it's a copyright infringement case, claiming that ACS Atlas's compilation of historical time zone data was copied. It seems that this would fall under the "phone book" interpretation of copyright (facts cannot be copyrighted but their presentation can be) does anyone know if this ACS American Atlas software contained these historical time zones as tzdata source files that could have been copied?

  • 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)

      The document in PDF format will be here shortly:

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

    • 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

      • The word you are looking for is 'copyrighted'.

        Right as in right to copy. Not Write as in pencil.

        The porpoise of copyright is to codify who has the right (not write) to copy.

        (The word I am looking for is 'purpose'.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Underpass road? Sure sound like trolls to me!

    • "...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)

        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)

        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)

      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)

      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,

  • 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) <billyNO@SPAMbenarty.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 Nadaka (224565)

      In a sane world? Yes. Here on earth? Maybe.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geminidomino (614729)

      Unfortunately, the suit is already filed. "Fuck off, Troll" might be an appropriate response to one of the extortionist nastygrams they tend to send ahead of time, but doing so now would just lead to all sorts of unpleasantness (default judgments and/or contempt, etc...)

      • So what lawyer do I write a check to so they go after the throat of the troll?

      • Since facts cannot be copyrighted, surely this is a case where you file for damages, legal fees, and demand sanctions against the opposing attorney?

        • by blair1q (305137)

          Facts you find can't be copyrighted. Facts you create can be copyrighted. Just try writing a story about a basketball game for your newspaper without a letter in the paper's files from the NBA saying you can publish it.

    • The key question is whether a specific collection of facts can be copyrighted.

      Facts obviously can't be copyrighted, but if I made a piece of 'art' made up of simple facts on a piece of paper, that piece of 'art' would be copyrighted but not the underlying facts.

      Could you claim a database is that piece of 'art'?

      It's a pathetic copyright troll to be sure, but I'm just playing devil's advocate.
    • by Eevee (535658)

      If I'm correct then the answer to this suit should be a very short "Fuck off, Troll"

      Please, this is the legal world. A simple "We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v. Pressdram [wikipedia.org]" would be more appropriate.

    • Hold on there... that's for the judge to decide in a courtroom, in the game of justice. Much like the game of chicken, the only way to win is to go full speed ahead and hope the other side runs out of money first. It takes money to play the game right, and come out on top.

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

  • 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 vi

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

  • Wait, wait, they're an ASTROLOGY company, not ASTRONOMY?! What, did their crystal ball tell them they'd win in court?
    • by MarkGriz (520778)

      What, did their crystal ball tell them they'd win in court?

      No, but perhaps the stars and planets did.

  • 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 t
    • In this case, the copyright law doesn't have to be modified. It already specifies that facts cannot be copyrighted.

      I think what you want is tort reform.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Can we PLEASE overhaul / ditch copyright law already?

      No, we can't. Not because it's a bad idea, but because on the side of copyright as it is we have all the big media companies which every single politician depends on for a successful campaign.

  • 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

1 Billion dollars of budget deficit = 1 Gramm-Rudman

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