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Law suit shuts down Olson TZ database servers. (gmane.org)
160 points by fanf2 on Oct 6, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 39 comments

I've pulled the court documents via Bloomberg Law. The issue at hand is that Astrolabe owns copyright to the "ACS Atlas", consisting of both the "ACS International Atlas" and the "ACS American Atlas". Olson tz files specifically reference the "ACS Atlas" as a source for some tz data and allegedly incorrectly asserts that it is in the public domain. They sent a takedown notice in May 2011 and it was ignored. The FTP site is listed in the court filing and they are requesting a temporary injunction, a permanent injunction, and award of damages and attorney fees.

EDIT: The registered copyright they're referring to is here: http://cocatalog.loc.gov/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?Search_Arg=tx...

The relevant quotes in tzdata are in the files (tzcode and tzdata are public domain):


  # From Paul Eggert (2006-03-22):
  # A good source for time zone historical data in the US is
  # Thomas G. Shanks, The American Atlas (5th edition),
  # San Diego: ACS Publications, Inc. (1991).
  # Make sure you have the errata sheet; the book is somewhat useless without it.
  # It is the source for most of the pre-1991 US entries below.

  # From Paul Eggert (2006-03-22):
  # A good source for time zone historical data outside the U.S. is
  # Thomas G. Shanks and Rique Pottenger, The International Atlas (6th edition),
  # San Diego: ACS Publications, Inc. (2003).
As far as I know, even if the book is copyrighted, the raw information contained in it shouldn't be?

> the raw information contained in it shouldn't be?

That's correct. Supreme Court decision. Said decision is the reason why you occasionally read news articles about the U.S. considering some form of database protection laws - to make those databases protectable under law (and therefore to make this lawsuit legitimate).

Most European nations have database protection laws. Although limited in scope and doesn't prevent you from compiling an identical database from other sources, it has insane side-effects. In the Netherlands for instance, the zip-code database is copyright protected.

As is the train timetable info for the bizarre reason to block competition for a new tender.

So that's why the journey planners in NL are a complete fail (ns, 9292ov). Always wondered, since NL is quite up to date in general when it comes to IT.

Actually, there's a lot of work being done, as we speak to change the situation on various levels. In 2013 I believe there will be a public tender for a "National Public Transport Data Warehouse", 9292ov will be supervising it I think, not bidding though.

Then there's the openOV project, a new project bringing together data from lots of sources and talking to lots of transport companies and agencies. Most transport tenders include a clause requiring data to be supplied to "national journey planners", so there's hope. Just today they're working on GTFS feeds for most of the Netherlands.

The Dutch Railways (NS) now has an API but it's mainly consumer facing data, and nothing truely helpful.

tl;dr: Our transit APIs are stuck in 2005 but making headway.

The complaint is worded to indicate that the atlas contains interpretations based on extensive original historical research. I suppose they are arguing that these aren't published facts that exist anywhere in the historical record. They reconstructed what was possibly in effect during many time periods based on possibly anecdotal historical documentation. I'm no lawyer, but I suspect some concrete examples of this would come up during the trial.

  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.

tzdata and tzcode are also interpretations of the data where the decision to accept Shanks' info or not is made for every entry in the database, for example:

  # Austria

  # From Paul Eggert (2006-03-22): Shanks & Pottenger give 1918-06-16 and
  # 1945-11-18, but the Austrian Federal Office of Metrology and
  # Surveying (BEV) gives 1918-09-16 and for Vienna gives the "alleged"
  # date of 1945-04-12 with no time.  For the 1980-04-06 transition
  # Shanks & Pottenger give 02:00, the BEV 00:00.  Go with the BEV,
  # and guess 02:00 for 1945-04-12.

That wouldn't be relevant though. No one disputes the fact that Olson would have the copyright to his own work.

I believe the issue is that copying the Atlas directly would not be permitted, but using it as a research source would be allowed.

I can understand that Astrolabe would be irritated about it, as it probably took a lot time and effort to get the information, but I don't see how that makes the information itself copyrightable.

Does it matter? The FTP site is gone.

Legal attacks don't have to have merit to be successful.

Astrolabe bought the Atlas. They didn't create it. Irritation is not the motivation here.

Can you copyright tz data at all? This has nothing to do with "creative" work, but is simply a (pre-existing) mapping between countries, dates, and offsets.

No, you can't -- the Supreme Court in 1991 ruled that even wholesale copying of a telephone book was legal, because you can't copyright facts:


Aren't timezone delineations and values set through legal means anyway? Does it even make sense that the specifics in a law can be copyrighted?

Their complaint points out that not all historical timezones used in practice are actually defined by law.

Doesn't the factual nature of the data prevent it from being subject to copyright law?

Thanks for digging into this!

This is the guy who has been tirelessly maintaining the timezone database for the past 25 years. You might not know about this, but timezones change a lot, so it's quite a bit of good work. If you use any Linux or OS X system today, chances are you're using the ADO timezone database.

Java includes it too. Even if your system has it natively, Java includes a separate copy.

Tcl includes it too.

I wonder how this really _impacts_ ACS Publications. If they're just defending their work for the sake of exercising their copyright, perhaps they should have chosen to license the work to the DB. Especially considering the volunteer effort that the freely available Olsen TZ DB has been.

It has been a long time since I took an IP law class, but my hazy understanding is that you don't have to defend copyright unless you want to. Trademarks can of course be ruined if they turn into generic terms. But I don't think that's true for copyright; I believe old infringement doesn't keep you from pursuing new infringement.

I think its exactly that. Its just copyright for the sake of copyright. As if Olson got stinking rich from tz_data.

I understand the copyright issue. It could be freely licensed though, and in fact generate goodwill rather than friction and lawyer fees.

I think its pretty obvious how it impacts them. If the free and public database didn't exist, anyone who needed accurate timezone information would be buying it from them.

I'm not saying its right or wrong. Just pointing out they can absolutely show lost revenue.

PHP also ships the Olson database. It's just everywhere, and for good reason: it's brilliant work.

Any computer, anywhere, in any programming language, on any platform uses it because it's the only one there is.

I think its safe to say that each and every one of us, directly or indirectly owes Mr. Olson a pint of his favourite ale. I have a few projects using tz_data directly to maintain DST changes across multiple time zones and to be honest I don't know what I'll do if that database goes away. Its been taken for granted by many until now but I remember being screwed once just because I didn't update it to account for some changes in DST times. So if those updates are stopped we'll all be affected.

The court case is Astrolabe, Inc. vs. Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert


ETA: and here is a link to the complaint:


Wow, I am eagerly awaiting more news on this lawsuit.

I've seen this DB pop up a few times in my trials of having to deal with implementing timezone support, and it seemed like it was always referred to as the defacto standard lookup for TZ info...

As another poster mentions, Timezones are constantly in flux, especially DST rules, and so for this guy to spend his time keeping it maintained is an incredible service to the community. If you've never had to work with them, consider yourself lucky (and start learning now - cus you will sooner or later).

Any information on exactly what the lawsuit is actually about?

Where can donations be made for his legal defense fund?

Is Olson adequately represented?

Canonical/Red Hat/Novell or any big commercial Linux outfit should stand up right now. Its their problem too.

These guys are small fry compared to other users of the Olson database software:

IBM, Oracle, Apple, Google. There's your $500bn in market capitalization right there.

Where is EFF now?

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

The Archive Team made a mirror of the files in question:


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