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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