Astrolabe Claims It Holds Copyright On Timezone Data; Sues Maintainers Of Public Timezone Database

from the you-can't-copyright-facts dept

Wow! Via Slashdot, we discover that a company named Astrolabe, which appears to make astrology software, has ridiculously decided to sue the maintainers of the timezone database that nearly every Unix and Linux platform uses to set clocks to local time. Astrolabe apparently bought the rights to the database from The American Atlas, which is cited as a source in the timezone database. But... there's a problem: you can't copyright facts. And it's difficult to see how this information is anything but factual. We have the full legal filing embedded below, but the best analysis comes from The Daily Parker's Dave Braverman who breaks down the legal issues as follows:
  1. Is data about when time zone rules changed throughout history protected under copyright?
  2. If so, who owns it?
  3. If someone owns it, is the Olson database a derivative work under copyright law?
  4. If the Olson database does, in fact, derive from the work in question, is it a fair use?
  5. Just how stupid are these astrologists, anyway?
Of course, I'm pretty sure the answer to question (1) is no, which would answer all the rest of the questions, except for the final one. One assumes that Arthur Olson and Paul Eggert -- the two guys being sued -- will be pretty quick to file for dismissal, and one hopes that a judge tosses this one out quickly. It will also be interesting to see if the NIH and UCLA get involved. Olson works for the NIH and Eggert for UCLA -- and the timezone database is hosted by both organizations. Each of them, easily, could claim sovereign immunity (which may be why they're not included in the suit directly). Still, I can't see this getting very far... and wonder if it's at the level of ridiculousness that Astrolabe's lawyers might face sanctions for bringing such a ridiculous lawsuit.

Braverman, in his writeup, notes that if the case actually does get anywhere, it could create a massive nuisance for anyone who uses Linux. But he also points out how incredibly short-sighted the lawsuit is:
What's even stupider about this lawsuit is that comments in the database encourage people to buy the book. So even if Astrolabe owns the copyright to the facts about time zone rules—a troubling proposition—their republication in the Olson database increases the likelihood that they'll make money off it.
Once again, however, we see copyright holders thinking that you should pay them to advertise their works.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    william (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 12:58pm

    Let see what the magic eight ball on my iphone says.

    1. Don't count on it
    2. Better not tell you now
    3. My source says no
    4. Most likely
    5. It is decidedly so

    Well, Magic eight ball doesn't lie...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:22pm

    Not just Linux

    Wikipedia has a nice list of all software which uses this timezone database. This includes Java, Oracle, Mac OS X...

    Given that none of these (which redistribute the database) seems to have been named in the lawsuit, it is possible that these lawyers had no idea what they were messing with.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    hmm (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    well done!

    I say grats to astrolabe's lawyers for wasting a lot of their money so they can't continue with their batshit insane charlatanism (i.e. astrology) which is entirely made up bullshit designed to steal money from the mentall weak and vulnerable.

    Every single person who works for Astrolabe is guilty of criminal filthy acts and deserves to be thrown into a tiny pit and forgotten about.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    identicon
    Pseudonym, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:30pm

    Won't go anywhere

    If The American Atlas contributed data to zone.tab, they did so in full knowledge that Olson et al released it into the public domain.

    I'm curious what TAA thinks they sold and Astrolabe thinks they bought. TAA may claim copyright ownership of some text file they have, but it can't be zone.tab because that would be copyfraud. Or they may not claim copyright ownership, but just sold a copy of zone.tab to Astrolabe (which is legit; you can charge money for a work in the public domain) and Astrolabe got stiffed on the deal.

    Either way, Olson et al got their copy of TAA's data legitimately and are distributing it legitimately, and any work that you base on it is also legitimate.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:38pm

    Wait.. I can see copyright I don't own too!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    icon
    twinkle (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:48pm

    Re: well done!

    You're a Taurus aren't you?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 1:54pm

    "We have the full legal filing embedded below"

    You do?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Peter Samuelson, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:00pm

    Reading between the lines

    The ultimate message Astrolabe is sending us is: if you compile and publish facts, DO NOT CITE YOUR SOURCES. Or they will sue you and waste your time and money.

    I do think it's an odd message for a publisher of an almanac to promote. I wonder if they've stopped to think about it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:20pm

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:24pm

    Legal defense fund?

    Any news about a legal defense fund?

    Where to send donations...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:39pm

    Paragraph 4 of the complaint says Astrolabe licensed a database, but the thedailyparker article makes it look like zoneinfo might be derived from the book, for whatever that might be worth.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:44pm

    Once again the DOJ is absent, neglecting its duties.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:44pm

    Did Astrolabe pay Sir Sandford Fleming?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    icon
    houstonspace (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 2:51pm

    Magic prediction

    Astrolabe will lose this case, for the stars tell me so. So say we all.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:03pm

    Re:

    You do?


    We do now. Somehow forgot to add it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Larry, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Re: well done!

    Well done sir. I now need cleaning supplies to wipe my monitor off!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:28pm

    Re:

    wait, what?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    streetlight (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:29pm

    Remember...

    There are more astrologers (and people who believe in astrology) than astronomers (and people who believe in the results of astronomy).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    harbingerofdoom (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    i have a feeling astrolabe may need to invest in astroglide once this is done.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re:

    Copyfraud it is a crime in the US that only the government can initiate proceedings.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyfraud

    Quote:
    Section 506(c) criminalizes fraudulent uses of copyright notices and Section 506(e) punishes knowingly making a false representation of a material fact in the application for copyright registration. Section 512(f) additionally punishes using the safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to remove material the issuer knows is not infringing.

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyfraud#cite_note-Copyfraud-NYULR-0

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 4:08pm

    Re: Not just Linux

    That’s why this case is so fucking stupid.

    Even if they’re not directly targeted in the lawsuit, I can see a horde of these groups who use the database descending on the court with amicus briefs.

    Open Source has friends. Don’t make those friends angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 4:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think this case meets any of the criteria you referenced.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    icon
    someone (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:45pm

    Re:

    I was thinking nearly the same thing, but you did miss the association:

    astrolabe
    astrolube

    I do agree that astrolabe will need lots of astrolube when this is done!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Marcus, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 5:55pm

    Boycott Astrolabe!

    These people are bad citizens. Spread the word: we're not buying any astrology software from them until they withdraw their complaint!

    Write them and call them. Ask them why they've been naughty. Tell them you're going to tell everybody how bad they've been and use the B word (boycott). Unless they are much more sinister than they appear, they will buckle. Fast.

    How do they expect to run an ecommerce site without a global time infrastructure? Duh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Remember...

    The inferior people who believe in astrology aren't really human: they're primates. Their inadequate brains should be discarded when their organs are harvested for use by members of superior species.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 6:27pm

    Re: Boycott Astrolabe!

    Or you could just boycott their astrology software because astrology is imaginary.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 7:03pm

    Re: Re: Boycott Astrolabe!

    Or just not be stupid and not believe in astrology.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:21pm

    Re: Re: Not just Linux

    The incredable Bloatware?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:35pm

    Re: Re:

    He didn't miss the association. Do you know what astroglide is?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    icon
    G Thompson (profile), Oct 6th, 2011 @ 9:51pm

    Time is just an illusion, Astrology doubly so

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 6th, 2011 @ 10:20pm

    Can I use this as an excuse to be late on my term paper?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 1:50am

    Personally, I'm for getting rid of time zones and daylight savings time altogether. Every clock on the planet should show the same time.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Wig, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 2:19am

    Ever notice how it's always some obscure company who "just bought patent x or the rights to y" and now "discovers" that some other organization or company "infringes" on whatever it was they bought?

    It is never the original company, the one that just sold something, that starts this kind of lawsuit. Probably because they know exactly what they sold and they know there is no case.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    icon
    JustMe (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 3:21am

    Re: Wig

    So true!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 3:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Not just Linux

    Microsoft isn't Open Source. Nor its' friend.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Oct 7th, 2011 @ 3:36am

    Re: Remember...

    I think the quote you are looking for is:
    "There is a sucker born every minute"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Random832, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 8:22am

    "What's even stupider about this lawsuit is that comments in the database encourage people to buy the book" The book isn't the issue, as far as their motive - the existence of a free timezone database is effectively a competitor to _their software_, so they looked for an angle - any angle - to kill it.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 10:58am

    The reaction starts

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 7th, 2011 @ 12:18pm

    agreed all around that this is stupid on the part of Astrolabe. OTOH, Olson and Eggert can't ignore this. They need legal representation. IMO, this would be a perfect job for .... EFF.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    HillBill, Oct 9th, 2011 @ 4:46am

    How about all the organisations who use the PTD countersue Astrolabe for their inconvenience because of this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    HillBill, Oct 9th, 2011 @ 4:46am

    How about all the organisations who use the PTD countersue Astrolabe for their inconvenience because of this?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Sebastian Majstorovic, Oct 9th, 2011 @ 9:55am

    Set up a mirror!

    Well, I think we have to fight this absolute nonsense. If Astrolabe prevailed in this case, which they will not, because their claim is ridicoulous, douchebag companies all around the world would try to do the same thing with other opensource projects.

    If you want to set up a mirror yourself, to help spread around the data all over the world, have a look here:
    http://github.com/canbuffi/tzmirror

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 10th, 2011 @ 9:40am

    If they did it its because the stars say its ok

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    identicon
    Astrology Software, Oct 11th, 2011 @ 8:54pm

    Astrolabe suit due to competition over Terran Atlas

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Oct 16th, 2011 @ 4:16pm

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
    identicon
    Tim Ransom, Nov 15th, 2011 @ 3:19pm

    Apparently I have a contrary view about this. In my opinion, Astrolabe has a solid and justifiable case, and I pray they win.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    icon
    astrologos (profile), Dec 5th, 2011 @ 8:24pm

    Astrolabe thinks it can own facts ?

    If Astrolabe thinks it can own facts and then sue anyone who uses them, they're in for a rude awakening.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    Chris, Jan 13th, 2012 @ 7:00pm

    OK, I get that everyone wants to bash Astrolabe because they don't like astrology. But presumably there's a bigger issue here. If "facts" can't be copyrighted, that means I can photocopy and distribute any non-fiction work without fear of prosecution, right?

    Or does lack of copyright protection only work if it's related to something you don't agree with like astrology?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  49.  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Jan 14th, 2012 @ 1:41am

    Re:

    "Astrolabe Claims It Holds Copyright On Timezone Data; Sues Maintainers Of Public Timezone Database"

    This isn't about astrology.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  50.  
    identicon
    Astrolabe, Mar 10th, 2012 @ 9:51pm

    This is ridiculous , how can astrolabe calim to hold copyright on Timezone data.

    Hope the court dismisses it's stupid claims.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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