ICANN Takes Over Time Zone Database; Dares Astrolabe To Sue

from the relax,-we've-got-it dept

You probably heard a few weeks ago about how an astrology software company, Astrolabe, claimed it now controlled the copyright for the historical time zone database that nearly every Linux and Unix system uses to set clocks to local time… and was suing the two individuals who maintain the database. Of course, plenty of people have pointed out that you can’t copyright facts, but facing a lawsuit is no fun, no matter how you look at it.

Late last week, however, ICANN announced that it was taking over the time zone database and would continue to maintain it. It also wasted no time effectively daring Astrolabe to sue it:

“We are aware of the lawsuit,” [Kim Davies, a technical manager at ICANN] said. “We believe it’s important to continue the operation of the database. We’ll deal with any legal matters as they arise.”

In other words: Hey Astrolabe, try suing us, because we’re ready for you.

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Companies: astrolabe, icann

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Comments on “ICANN Takes Over Time Zone Database; Dares Astrolabe To Sue”

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iamtheky (profile) says:

TD certainly needs a section for celebratory posts so that we can readily identify the companies and individuals seemingly* fighting the good fight.

Maybe update this to something a tad more technical than email:

“current time zone information, which comes from tips sent by volunteers through an email list.”

maybe a blog like this where they could connect with fans by always being sold out of T-shirts 🙂

RobShaver (profile) says:

What facts are we talking about?

Time zones are not facts … they are an invention for human convenience. The earth does not rotate in one hour increments. The earth rotates once a day, but decided/declared that there are exactly 24 hours in a day, which we know is not exactly correct.

So I’m glad ICANN is taking some action, I don’t think anyone’s trying to copyright any facts here. If I’m wrong, please point it out so I can be a little smarter next time.



Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What facts are we talking about?

Based on the logic of your post…..

Names are not facts as they are an invention for human convenience. When you were born instead of giving you a number based on your birth order (an actual fact, but hard to track) you were given a name. And most likely your name is Robert so Rob is not exactly correct either.

Does that mean I can sue you for being named Rob since it is not a fact?

Can you sue somebody else for using the name Rob or Robert?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What facts are we talking about?

The problem with your reasoning is basically a category error. The tzdata database stores facts about timezones, not the concept of having timezones itself.

The database contains facts like “The Australia/Canberra timezone is offset +10 hours from UTC, except in the summer months when it is offset +11”.

Governments around the world have a nasty habit of repartioning their time zones and fiddling with the Daylight Saving rules. We need a database to keep track of all those rules and the changes to them, so that we can work with dates and times in software.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What facts are we talking about?

If I’m wrong, please point it out…

Please see Feist Publications v Rural Telephone Service (1991).

In part III of that opinion, Justice O’Connor makes clear that ?the names, towns, and telephone numbers of 1,309 of Rural’s subscribers? are ?uncopyrightable facts?.


There is no doubt that Feist took from the white pages of Rural’s directory a substantial amount of factual information. At a minimum, Feist copied the names, towns, and telephone numbers of 1,309 of Rural’s subscribers.?.?.?.

The question that remains is whether Rural selected, coordinated, or arranged these uncopyrightable facts in an original way.?.??.

We conclude that the names, towns, and telephone numbers copied by Feist were not original to Rural and therefore were not protected by the copyright in Rural’s combined white and yellow pages directory.?.?.?.

In the copyright context, the word ?fact? may approach something of a term-of-art. I hesitate to say that it does, but telephone numbers, in particular, are invented ?facts?. Invented by the telephone company: Rural Telephone Company.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What facts are we talking about?

Time zones are not facts … they are an invention for human convenience.

Veeck v SBCI (5th Cir., 2002)

It should be obvious that for copyright purposes, laws are “facts”: the U.S. Constitution is a fact; the Federal Tax Code and its regulations are facts; the Texas Uniform Commercial Code is a fact. Surely, in principle, the building codes of rural Texas hamlets are no less “facts” than the products of more august legislative or regulatory bodies. While the Supreme Court has not stated directly that laws are “facts,” it has broadly observed that, as with census data, “the same is true of all facts?scientific, historical, biographical and news of the day. `They may not be copyrighted and are part of the public domain available to every person.'” Feist, 499 U.S. at 348, 111 S.Ct. at 1289.

The Astrolabe v Olson case is in the First Circuit, so the Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Veeck is merely pursuasive for that case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What facts are we talking about?

Time zones…

Note that Astrolabe v Olson et al is in the District of Massachusetts. A case from that district is Skinder-Strauss v Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (D.Mass., 1995), where the court opined that, in the context of copyright, information about time zones was so-called ?common property.?

.?.?. information that is so-called “common property” and does not vary with the creativity of the compiler. For example, a standard calendar, a list of important holidays, a map of Massachusetts, a national map including time zones, and a date calculation chart are all common forms of conveying information and/or are “ideas” that cannot be considered separately from their expression. After all, there are only a very limited number of ways that an author can render a calendar, date calculation chart, or list of holidays. Cf. Harper House, 889 F.2d at 204, 204 n. 5 (holding that common property such as area code/time zone maps and standard calendars contained in daily organizer are not copyrightable); 37 C.F.R. ? 202.1(d) (1995) (excluding from copyright “[w]orks consisting entirely of information that is common property containing no original authorship, such as, for example: Standard calendars, height and weight charts, tape measures and rulers, schedules of sporting events, and lists or tables taken from public documents and other common sources”).

Emphasis on ?a national map including time zones?.

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