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.

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Companies: astrolabe

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Comments on “Astrolabe Claims It Holds Copyright On Timezone Data; Sues Maintainers Of Public Timezone Database”

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50 Comments
Lawrence D'Oliveiro says:

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.

hmm (profile) says:

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.

Pseudonym (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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

Marcus says:

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.

Wig says:

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.

Sebastian Majstorovic (user link) says:

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

Chris says:

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?

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