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Time-zone database used by Unix shut down due to IP litigation (joda.org)
509 points by mcantelon on Oct 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 121 comments

Every day we see bat-shit-crazy lawsuits over patents and trademarks that have a huge impact on society, for no good reason but corporate greed. If the company follows through it means any computer system that lists possible time zones would be at risk since the original data came from a source that this company bought. Not surprised one bit by this.

In the end, this is Astrolabe, Inc.


I don't think they are going to take the computerized world into the timezone dark ages. I suspect this will all be resolved reasonably, especially if companies who ship this data get involved (e.g. every *nix vendor, Oracle (Java), etc).

Well, as a company making its living from peddling Astrology, taking the world into the dark ages would arguably be in their self interest...

Actually I wouldn't be so sure. Very often it's the legal people who push for that stuff and the founders are told to not worry, everything will be fine, until they are left with a PR disaster.

It seems likely that the interest of an Astrology company in historical timezone data is in being able to determine the precise position of the stars and planets in the sky at the moment of someone's birth (which obviously involves knowing what local timezone was in effect at that place and time).

I am sure they see great value in being the only Astrologers who can do this, which means that they need to suppress access to this data.

I am sure they see great value in being the only Astrologers who can do this, which means that they need to suppress access to this data.

It's amazing to think that people might actually care about this kind of "accuracy" in Astrology, but unfortunately, you might just be right. Geez, maybe in a year or so, they're calling the other astrologers phonies because they can't possibly have the right data.

Unlikely that this would be possible as the data can no doubt be compiled from other sources. Besides they're still selling the atlas. Seems more likely that some lawyer has noticed the reference and convinced them to take it up.

The lawyer who filed the documents is a small-town lawyer from East Sandwich, MA who deals in "Civil Litigation, Real Estate, Family & Matrimonial Law, Zoning, Contract, Disputes, Estate Planning, Wills, Health Care, Proxies, Powers Of Attorney". So it doesn't seem likely this was dreamed up by the lawyer as some grand IP case. Time will tell when more happens in the court case.

I wish more people knew this. I learned this first hand. You must watch what your lawyers are doing. Its in their interest to drum up billable hours pursuing stuff like this. It may not be at all in your business's interest to let it happen.

Publicly held corporations are greedy by definition. The objective of such a corporation is simply to make as much money for its owners as possible.

Our laws create an environment where intellectual property abuse has proven to be a profitable venture.

The solution is not to redefine corporations as non-greedy entities.

Not necessarily. Generally, the purpose of a corporation is, in fact, to maximize shareholder wealth, but all a corporation is supposed to do is to represent the interests of the shareholders, which do not have to be financially motivated.

In theory, corporations are not solely profit-seeking. In practice, they tend to be.

I'm not sure if this is an Australia-only thing - and I was under the impression that if was far from being so - but here the responsibility to shareholders of a corporation is solely fiscal.

The reasoning behind this is that shareholder needs tend to differ. If shareholders wish to engage in philanthropy, the corporation is not the ideal (shared) vessel for doing so. Instead, individual investors may receive their asset's rent and choose to distribute their earnings as they please; management is employed to run the Corp and not make decisions for the shareholders' philanthropic activities.

Not true. Corporations are supposed to bring long term value to share holders. In many cases we see lawyers go for a quick buck at the cost of a tarnished image, which is very debatable whether that's good long term.

Exactly. Case in point: Google. Imagine if they started pulling stunts like this - the goodwill they depend on would evaporate overnight, the whole "I don't mind Google owning all my data because they aren't evil" balance would become paranoia about everything they touch, and they would lose billions. I believe that Microsoft's myopic focus on short-term profit at the expense of doing the right thing is one of the major causes of it's recent decline towards obscurity.

In today's world of abundant choice, companies have to provide good products AND provide them ethically.

Back on topic, look at what Astrolabe have done - taken something they probably couldn't make much money from anyway, and got the unix-derived world very pissed off with them. Their employees will feel down and it'll be harder to hire, and they'll have to endure snide remarks for years. I know I'd be selling their shares today, if I had any - I don't like investing in jerks.

Instead, they could have come out and said "We're pleased to donate our IP towards this amazingly useful service", and got a pat on the back from the world. And I'm guessing most of their shareholders would have been happy their investment was making the world a better place.

Very well said. And it is important that we help making this a PR disaster for the company, even if we have to be cautious - being it a quite obscure entity, even bad publicity could be useful to them...

> The solution is not to redefine corporations as non-greedy entities.

Wouldn't it be easier to take measures to make undesirable behavior unprofitable than to throw away capitalism?

So true. It just freaks me out how many people don't get this.

The problem is with the broken legal system that needs to get fixed. No I am not happy about Astrolabe doing this stupid stuff, but they are quite clearly the symptom, not the root cause. We need to fix the system instead of crying foul everytime someone uses the broken system to do something that is against societies best interest.

The same is true of the financial system. Everyday I talk to people who complain about the greedy and 'stupid' bankers. Well, they behaved 100% rationally. If you work in a system where you can play 'heads I win, tails you loose' you almost have to do it (otherwise you will be outearned and get fired). The problem is the system that allows this kind of game. That is what needs to get fixed.

> Publicly held corporations are greedy by definition. The objective of such a corporation is simply to make as much money for its owners as possible.

This isn't always true.

The objective of a corporation is defined by the objective of its owners (if the owners are any good). This objective might not necessarily be "to make as much money as possible."

Different corporations have different cultures, and these cultures can define different priorities for the companies.

Look, these intellectual property companies are job creators. I'm sick of all you hippies who want free access to a timezone database. As long as they keep up the lobbying and donations, they're doing a lot more for the world than silly concepts I've never heard of like "unix" and "java".

Kindly lay off sarcasm. I understand the temptation, but succumbing to it will cause HN to become a place for wenting anger. I mean just look at the thread of comments below yours. Is that what you want HN to be?

Let's make it a place for civilized discourse instead... shall we?

Kindly lay off scolding. I understand the temptation, but succumbing to it will cause HN to become a place for silly meta discussions. I mean just look at how much longer you made this thread.

PS there was an actual point there. You can disagree if you want I guess, but meta discussions are always stupid - post the disagreement instead.

You hid your actual point in sarcasm so well, I have no idea whether your point was merely "rah rah American democracy is shit" or something more insightful.

What was it?

That we as techies have a fundamentally different view of this than legislators, and legislators typically are going to listen to whoever pays to play. Honestly listen, as in they know what they don't know and are trying to learn. But they only hear part of the story.

I don't mind the occassional visit to sarcasm and humor on HN, especially when it is relatively high-brow, poignant, and relevant.

Not that I would claim I always manage to instill poigniancy into my jibes.

Is satire, which often makes very heavy use of sarcasm, to be considered uncivilized?

Unless it's exceptionally good then we're better off without it.

The problem with sarcasm is that it insulates you from having to make an argument yourself. All you have to do is mimic your opponent and make them sound ridiculous. It's almost inherently a straw man fallacy unless it is exceptionally careful.

If you can't use sarcasm you're forced to state what you believe in positive terms, which makes for much more fruitful discussion. It's like the "passive voice" of argumentation. There are some cases where you just have to, but your writing gets better if you categorically avoid it.

Hacker News is a bit like KAOS. Unless you're at the North Pole, there is no joking here.

there is no room for satire on HN.

In this case it just wasn't funny.

(Yes, I know, subjective, blah blah blah. I don't care.)

I'm sick of all you hippies who want free access to a timezone database

Seriously. Who came up with the moronic idea that people somehow "deserve" to know what time it is?

We can totally crowdsource time. If everyone inputs what time they think it is by looking at the sky, we could just take the average of all those inputs and know the absolute time [wisdom of the crowd]

I'd much rather each community select a few people who they think are the best at knowing what time it is and then take an average of them.

+1 for absolute relative social local time!

Statistically, it will always be just about lunch time, so I think we can just dispense with clocks.

Right on! It is about time that computer users buck up and take some personal responsibility. It's not like you can just look up at the sky and figure out what time it is! The hard work of innovators who figure out complex issues like the time need to be compensated!

Indeed. It's not like knowing what time it is, is not valuable. Just think of all the interviews you could make on-time!

Of course, if you want to show up on time, on the correct day, you'll also need to license out access to our date server, in addition to the time server.

It'd be funnier if it weren't so, so true.

Yeah, they teach us in business school that "time = money".

Only a pinko commie would think that privately-owned intellectual property like this should be free.

Sarcasm and satire only work when you aren't saying something you might actually believe.

Mafia and drug cartels create jobs as well. That doesn't mean they are good for the society, and that the people employed by them could not produce more value doing something else.

Guess I needed the snark tag. Thought the unix and java line would be a dead giveaway.

I missed it too and so I downvoted your post.

HN being a site full of entrepeneurs I often see concepts about society and rights where I feel sick in my stomach, so your post did not seem very unusual to me.

Yes, I'm sorry I downvoted you too before I realized you were making a joke (no way to undo it, though I upvoted this post to make up for it). I guess it wasn't over-the-top enough, there are people that would mean that seriously, and defend copyright and patent trolls.

You can't be serious.

I wasn't :)

The problem is that Olson is clearly derived from a copyright source and it's not clear that's it's protected by any of the fair use clauses.

The timezone data should have been derived from primary sources (legislation in the particular countries, etc.), by deriving from a secondary source which may have used editorial judgement in compiling that data there is potentially a genuine copyright issue.

It should be possible to rewrite Olson without using a secondary source (if it's not then it would imply that there is a clear copyright violation) and that's what the community should attempt to do.

Facts can not be copyrighted. See Feist v. Rural: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_v._Rural

It is difficult to imagine what data this database contains that is somehow of a creative nature, that comes from the source in question. Though I do recall there being some actual text in the comments it didn't strike me as pulled straight from an almanac.

The data itself could be based on creative choices. For example: deciding the timezones for disputed territories, handling ambiguous historical date changes, the divisions of territories into timezones etc.

These are creative decisions, I worked at a largish tech company which developed it's own timezone database and it's a non-trivial process to decide how to divide geographic locations into timezones. A lot of locations you have to pre-emptively allocate a timezone, not because they have a different timezone from their surrounding area, but because they might at some point in the future have one.

The American Atlas (the work under debate) divides Indiana into 345 different areas and gives a timezone history for each one, but there are literally millions of ways you could have subdivided Indiana and ended up with different areas, it comes down to arbitrary decisions on how you group together different timezone changes. The 345 different areas were presumably chosen based upon a creative process.

"The American Atlas (the work under debate) divides Indiana into 345 different areas"

And the timezone file in question does not, unless I am very much mistaken. So even if we stipulate your point, which I don't, it wouldn't apply because the timezone isn't a copy of that aspect, and again, you can't copyright facts. Even if the timezone file used the same divisions, what would be protected is the Atlas' textual description of them, their textual history, whatever cute anecdotes are written up, not the fact of existence of 345 different areas in Indiana which have at some point had some sort of time zone difference.

You can take whatever facts in the world you like from whatever source, write them up in your own words, and the original author of the facts has zero copyright claim on your words. Copyright protects expressions, not facts. If you're managed to stretch your definition of copyright to the point that it says you can actually own facts, you have, by definition, in fact exceeded the domain of copyright. Nobody owns those 345 different areas of Indiana, only the words creatively used to describe them.

I think you miss the point, the division of areas for time-zoning purposes can be done in millions of different ways. The selection of a particular way to do it is a creative choice.

Yes, but the product of that creative choice is a fact. Here's a relevant quote from Feist v. Rural http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US...

Quote (emphasis added):

This inevitably means that the copyright in a factual compilation is thin. Notwithstanding a valid copyright, a subsequent compiler remains free to use the facts contained in another's publication to aid in preparing a competing work, so long as the competing work does not feature the same selection and arrangement. As one commentator explains it: "[N]o matter how much original authorship the work displays, the facts and ideas it exposes are free for the taking. . . . [T]he very same facts and ideas may be divorced from the context imposed by the author, and restated or reshuffled by second comers, even if the author was the first to discover the facts or to propose the ideas." Ginsburg 1868.

That's only an issue if you have a real atlas.

AFAIK, the tz data just maps timezones and date ranges to offsets. Your different areas don't matter at all here, because the tz data doesn't care about the mapping of geographical regions to time zones.

I'm not sure I follow, the tzdata AFAIK is primarily geographic mappings to time offsets and transitions ? - the number of timezones which are identified by timezone name like UTC are relatively few.

tzdata says absolutely nothing about geography. "America/New_York" is just a name for a certain set of historical timezone data, but it's completely up to users to decide what geographical area they want to associate with it.


From the link I posted:

"In regard to collections of facts, O'Connor states that copyright can only apply to the creative aspects of collection: the creative choice of what data to include or exclude, the order and style in which the information is presented, etc., but not on the information itself. If Feist were to take the directory and rearrange them it would destroy the copyright owned in the data."

Please don't make me copy and paste the whole article, or worse, the whole ruling in here.

I concede the point. It looks like the litmus test used to be "sweat of the brow", overturned to be "creativity". The question then becomes, are time zones facts, or are they somehow creative expressions of categorization? If not, it's hard to imagine this standing up under the ruling you cite.

There is arguably some creativity in the naming of the time zones, such as "America/New_York" or "America/Los_Angeles". Though I have no idea if this is part of the litigation or not.

Creativity is the wrong word, the better word is "expression". To qualify for copyright protection, one must actually be expressing something beyond mere facts, not merely choosing from equally factual options. It is difficult to expand "America/New_York" into anything that is actually an expression coming from the almanac or the maintainer that isn't simply an objectively true fact. The closest I can come is "New York is an important, representative city in this time zone." and as expressions of something other than raw fact go, that's weak sauce. Anyone who claims that's not simply a fact would be doing so for the sole purpose of trying to argue a wedge issue in this specific context, not in good faith.

So is it the slash or the underscore that's the creative part?

This is basically the only readable naming convention that uses well-known geographical names and is computer friendly (Unix-like separators, lack of spaces). I see no creativity here.

The important part of copyright is originality (not creativity). The test would be whether there was more than one way to express the information and whether there was originality in the expression chosen.

A court looking at the copyright status of the timezone database would look for originality in the selection of the identifiers. Why America/New_York and not America/NY or America/NYC or even America/East_Coast? Someone made a decision to choose one form over another so there is originality, hence it is copyrightable. The same applies for other systems such as Dewey Decimal classification or the Getty Thesaurus of Placenames.

That said, it seems the problem is not in the copyright status of the timezone database but in the fact the compilers used copyrighted work to derive their information. The assumption seems to be that makes it a derived work. I'm not so sure about that.

The existence of timezones are uncopyrightable facts. The boundaries of those timezones are uncopyrightable facts. The naming of the timezones is copyrightable by the database compilers not by the atlas owners unless the compilers copied the timezone names from the atlas. Anyone got a copy to check that?

There are many other naming conventions that could have been used such as "Pacific Standard Time" or "PST" but the author chose to name the time zones based on popular/well-known geographical locations as their timezone names, not merely their descriptions. That is why its arguably creative.

In hindsight this seems like commonsense. But maybe not when it was designed. I'm personally against these kind of litigations. But if its purely based on interpreting the law, then this could be argued to be creative/expressive.

Again, I'm not even sure that the premise is even true. That is the litigation might not even be about the naming convention.

You should have researched more before posting. EST has not always meant the same thing in all places, certain areas moved into different timezones are different times, some places did or did not chose daylight saving time, etc.

By referencing the city name all those historical changes are also included.

You are only thinking about supporting the _current_ timezone, but this database also supports timezones for past dates and times.

A naming convention, if it were eligible for IP protection, would be in the realm of patent or trade secrets. It would not be under copyright. Here copyright is claimed.

For the record in some countries primary legislation is sometimes copyrighted, and if it includes a map, the map might be copyrighted by the national mapping agency.

For example, here's a random minor Irish law altering the boundary of a minor city: http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2007/en/si/0818.html

The law is copyrighted to the Government of Ireland. The law basically says "The shaded area on the map is the new city limits". However the map is almost certainly copyrighted to OSi (Ordnance Survey of Ireland), and is not free to copy.

Just tell Astrolabe what you think of them on their facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Astrolabe-Astrology-Software-a...

I did, was removed.

You and dozens of others, with no statements from their side at all.

We rely on heavily on timezone databases and when designing our app had a a lot of debate on what would be the best way to go. We opted for a hybrid solution implementing several options with redundency Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that the Unix TMZ database would be compromised in such a a way. Just goes to show that you can never think of all contigencies, but good planning and foresight is essential.

I wonder if even some GNU software has gotten caught up in this. Those guys are pretty darn careful. Talk about justifying your paranoia!

Each time something like this comes down the pipe, I click over one notch more GNU/FSF.

Can somebody explain what benefits we have from having time zones _at all_? They are an absolute mess: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/ac/World_Tim... Wouldnt it be easier to have one time for the whole planet, like we have one date for the whole planet? Is there some reasoning behind it or is it just another case of historical baggage? There seems to be no other rationale behind it than allies and trading partners wanting to have the same or comparable time display.

There is a lot to be said for baggage. You mess with stuff like that at great peril.

We already have a great example for this: the military.

The military operates on zulu time for things like air operations. You want to know exactly when the C-130 is going to arrive, not screw around with offsets or local time diffs.

But they still operate for mundane stuff on local time: 'Assemble for formation at 0745.' 'Mess opens at 0530'. Like that.

Because we live on a big globe and people like having '0530' be 'too early in the morning' no matter where you are.

I fail to understand how this connects to the very real problem. The issue is a fact, you talk fiction.

Going down that route though: You are right, that this stuff is completely arbitrary and probably a heritage of some sorts. But it's deeply ingrained.


The world would be a better place if everyone would drive on the right (haha!) side. Why don't we fix it overnight?

The world would be a better place with only one (and simple) calendar. Go ahead, propose one.

The world would be a better place without discussions about date and time _formats_. You know how much these cost?

The world would be a better place without different units, depending on country. Can we please drop feet and whatever other body parts were used? It's "historical baggage".

The world would be a better place if we had just one country with one legislation and one global set of rights.

(Obligatory link: http://worldtimebuddy.com - which I found through this site - is regularly the most awesome utility the web has to offer for me) See, I don't really disagree with you. But you're a dreamer if you discuss about whether we really should depend on time zones. And in my book a couple of issues are more important to fix before we tackle that problem and introduce a stardate of some sorts.

>The world would be a better place with only one (and simple) calendar. Go ahead, propose one.

A hobby of mine is thinking up "better" ways to do things that I know will never be implemented because the current way is good enough and the barriers to change are huge. My personal favorites are a combination of a new calendar, new lat/long system, and new set of timezones.

The calendar has eight months of 28 days and four months of 35 days (so that every month has an exact number of weeks, so that a given day of the month is always the same day of the week). The first day of the year exists outside of the months (month zero, day one), and would colloquially be "new year's day." When a leap day is needed, it is added as an extra day at the end of the year (month thirteen, day one), and would colloquially be "leap day." The order of the months would be short-long-short-short-long-short-etc (so that each season has one long and two short months).

Whenever I'm in a situation where I can't keep myself engaged by reading or conversation (e.g. waiting in line with no wireless signal), I amuse myself by dreaming up crap like this.

Though not every place on earth has 4 distinct seasons. The tropics have two (wet and dry), and many cultures have/had seasons based on farming practices of their primary crop.

Creating an entirely new calendar would be easiest on an entirely new planet.

I actually gave some consideration to that. There are also places that have six seasons. However, I'm pretty sure that a majority of the world's population lives in temperate zones (I didn't bother researching that, so I could be wrong), which have four seasons.

Even if you decide to go with four seasons, the definitions of the seasons get tricky. You can define them by the solar calendar, or you can define them by environmental conditions; the two tend to be out of phase by about six weeks. I actually figured out a way to make the months line up reasonably well with the four environmental seasons and with the six environmental seasons (which are not of equal length); it wasn't perfect for either, but it was OK for both. I didn't bother keeping notes...

You really think short-long-short-short-long is better? It seems confusing enough to be of dubious value. Why not have seasons and months be equivalent and each equal to 73 days in length? That way you'd had the 50th day of summer, for example. Sure it would require a new season, but you reduce complexity quite a bit and there is no reason to keep the existing 12 month requirement. You can align the first month/season with the first of the year and add a 0-day for leap years.

Yeah, it's kind of fun to think about...

I wanted the months to be equally-divisible into weeks of equal length. It turns out that the 7-day week is the only really good way to divide the year equally into smallish units and only have one or two days left over.

So you could have four season-months of 13 weeks (91 days) each. But I like the idea of months that are in the same ballpark as lunar cycles. Lunar cycles and solar cycles don't mesh, so you can't have months that perfectly match lunar cycles unless you're willing to have months that float against years the way weeks currently float against months, but then again some people might find that appealing.

You could also use 13 months of 28 days each - that totals 364 days as well.

That was my initial idea. But then there's no good way to divide them neatly into seasons, whether you want to have two, four, or six.

It does have the advantage that it comes very close to lining up with the lunar cycle, so that the lunar month would only slide very slowly against the calendar month (about half a lunar-month of phase shift per year). And since the definition of "season" is very mushy anyway, maybe thirteen months would be the way to go.

Right now it's tomorrow in Australia. I find it convenient to talk about things I did "on Thursday" at work, rather than the things I did on the local day that spanned Thursday night to Friday morning.

If everyone used UTC you'd still have many of the same problems, just in reverse. For example, you can reasonably guess that in any country, an office will be staffed on weekdays from roughly 9-5 local time. If we all operated on UTC, then you'd need to look up in a big table what times the Sydney office operated.

It is useful to have a shared understanding of where in the day you expect an event to happen. E.g. 1pm is going to be around lunchtime whether you are in Sydney or New York.

Also, dates have exactly the same problems as time zones - the date starts at midnight local time. If lcoal time changes, then for part of the day, so does the date.

Swatch tried it about ten years ago. They divided the day into 1000 units they called "beats" and made watches that showed traditional time and "beat" time. Their prime meridian was at their headquarters in Switzerland and there were no time zones; Swatch time was the same worldwide.

It went nowhere, mainly because it offered nothing we didn't already have. Anyone who wanted/needed a time that was the same world-wide used UTC as they have done for centuries.

Swatch beats were pre-Y2K!

It's kind of a shame they went nowhere. Something like Swatch beats would be useful. See, for example, Stack Exchange "days" - I have no idea when they start or finish in my time-zone.

The historical context is that most of the world wants the time to correlate to the sun. Noon is when the sun is (about) overhead, and midnight is when the sun is on the opposite side of the planet. We also have unique daylight savings practices, even within time zones. There is a lot of political discussion that causes this. China, for example, has one single time zone even though geographically it spans about 3 "real" time zones.

We do have a "world time" as well, if you would like to live by it. It's called UTC.

Personally, time zones help me to relate to others in a different part of the world. If I say I got up at 5am, someone on the other side of the world could say "Why did you sleep in so late? I eat lunch at 6am". With a single time, we would need to translate the numbers for local interpretation, otherwise they have no meaning.

In my opinion, there'a lot of value for informal communication that all participants understand that e.g. 8am local time is morning everywhere. E.g. before you fly to another country, you can agree to meet with your hosts at 10am and know intuitively that it's quite sensible time.

But current model is too complicated, mainly due to daylight saving time (DST). If we would get rid of DST, and map timezones based on longitude and country borders (and state borders for larger countries like Russia, USA, Canada), things would be much simpler. Of course, when countries are split or merged, some updates would be needed, but usually then other data (city-country mappings etc.) needs to be updated too, so this wouldn't be that big issue.

I'll refer you to this Slashdot discussion on the matter: http://ask.slashdot.org/story/11/08/27/1819203/ask-slashdot-...

The first time I have gone onto /. in years and the first comment reconfirms my decision to leave:

    Is this the type of crap we can come to expect now that CmdrTaco is gone?
And it is scored 5 "Insightful" sigh

/me hugs HN and will never compare it to Reddit again.

meh, get rid of daylight savings time first, then we can talk about unifying time zones. baby steps.

There's UTC as the universal time for the whole planet. Just need to get everyone start using it day to day.

The military does. It's called - or used to be called - zulu time.

It's only used by guys who -must- use it. Air plane drivers, strategic guys, comm center operators.

Everyone else uses the local time.

I suspect if UTC / zulu were really the bee's knees some general would mandate everyone use it.

Heck, they got me - a dumb American from the sticks - to think in metric pretty easily. UTC would be a breeze.

Another way to go would be to use longitude as the local UTC offset, in increments of 15 degrees (so that offsets are always integers).

At least set your servers to use UTC. They dont complain about when they have meals.

If you need the latest version, Archive Team got a backup and put it on the Internet Archive http://www.archive.org/details/archiveteam-munari-oz-au-2011...

Can someone explain how this will affect me? Will my code break because the server is down or is this more of an issue for populating the time zone data for OS and language libraries?

Your code won't break. And you probably won't even have any difficulty populating the database on new installs, since your OS provider is probably mirroring the current database.

But there are "between 20 and 100" changes to the worldwide timezone-set per year. So three weeks from now, someone's gonna change their timezone rules, effective perhaps 2013. Maybe it'll be Bolivia. And then three weeks later, someone else, maybe some part of Indiana. Then three weeks later, maybe a civil war in some ex-SSR or something finally resolves, and the two different halves end up using different time zone plans (one of them uses DST, the other doesn't, and neither of them use the USSR regime they had last year).

So now a year passes, it's 2012, what're you doing? Is your software using a database that's a year (and maybe 50 events) out of date? Or did you hand-maintain it, because you care about Indiana, and you got 10 of the 50 events? Or maybe you used the Debian fork of tzdata?

And what am _I_ doing? Probably not the same thing as you. And now when my software and your software try to interoperate (maybe our iCal calendaring, maybe our enterprise order management integration bus service routing frameworks, maybe we just want to agree when your mother's flight will land), guess what. Sooner or later a relevant event happens in one of the altered timezones, and someone misses a flight, and we get a very very difficult-to-track-down bug.

Actually, it's not that terrible, as long as every time event you care about takes place in a big important time-jurisdiction that'll be maintained by every tzdata fork that every software you care about will use. Which I guess could theoretically apply to me or you. I don't actually care about Indiana, so I don't care if time events that take place there don't synchronize.

If we agree that most OS vendors will probably ignore the copyright claim and keep using the current database, then one could put any newer updates into a "patch database", which clearly would not be under any prior copyright (and could be easily made available to everyone as the old database was). So, I don't really buy your parable about how this will only affect future changes. If tzdata "forks", it will be between what old (possibly copyrighted) data is included.

Well, on the one hand, I agree with you about one source of forks being old data, although at least this is a relatively simple fork: those who excise the allegedly-infringing parts of the database, and those who do not.

On the other hand, I think you are completely groundless in your assertion that it can't fork over future changes. There could be multiple patch databases with disjoint changesets in them, with different software using different databases.

And it's not _my_ parable. It's my rephrasing of the FA, and the comments by the FA's author in his own comments thread.

So, in the end, the people that need to worry about this issue know they need to worry about this issue.

This would only affect people right now if a timezone change was made by some government somewhere in the world and a change needed to be made to the database files and published so all the software which embeds it could update.

If the site remains down, mailing list members would simply discuss and post the change that needed to be made and software embedding the files and OS vendors would need to update manually.

tl;dr Nothing is going to change anytime soon.

Essentially, your OS provider, if it uses this database, will likely choose to cease distributing tzdata until the disputed data is removed / replaced.

Very short term, no big deal. Longer term, it could be a big deal if this leads to fragmentation and inconsistencies in tzdata.

Your operating system (and likely your programming language too) have local copies. You just won't get updates until this is all sorted out.

It won't.

You can vote for the second review here.... ;-)


edit: whoops direct link should be: http://www.amazon.com/review/R2BNKSLH3PYOCR/ref=cm_cr_dp_per...

If this continues, we'll need a pirate bay for open source.

Good idea! It could be called "openbay"... Hmmm...

Interestingly enough, the database is definitely copyrighted work in Europe. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Database_right.

The European database right lasts for only 15 years from each "substantial modification" of the database. The work in question dates from 1991 and contains mostly historical data so presumably those rights have expired.

No, it's not "definitely" anything in Europe, the database copyright issue is much more nuanced and has assorted exceptions, limitations, and requirements that normal copyrighted works do not, and courts tend to write small novels on the subject whenever an applicable case comes up.

(Not defending it, the concept of database copyright is mostly stupid, but you can't just say "databases are copyrightable", because that's not how the law actually works anywhere.)

I'm surprised that their (astrolabe) website is still up. Where's anonymous with their LOICs when they are needed desperately?

Not sure if any IP lawyers are reading and could comment. Would it be helpful to a case like this to crowd-source finding prior published art for the specific ACS references in the files? This would be ideal for something like Groklaw to pick up.

Serious question: Why do we need the old almanac entries anyway?

I can see current and future, but the almanac's data seems worthless to me.

Many computer programs need to deal with historical dates. Without these tz rules captured into one place, it would be very difficult to determine when an event happened in another timezone. Also, most data is either going to be stored in UTC or in some domain-specific alternate "center" (New York time, for instance), forcing conversions if a user wants to view the data in their local time.

A contrived example: Say I'm in London and I want to know what time the NYSE opened up in London-local time on Black Thursday, October 24, 1929. That requires looking up the opening time in NYC and then converting the time to a different timezone, possibly taking into account DST in both locales.

Why are they shutting it down? Why don't they just update those entries to use a different source?

Uh oh. Hopefully someone made a copy! :)

What? HN can't take a joke?

Slightly off-topic but here's a question about patents that I just can't wrap my head around. Could you patent the contents of an RFC? If so, is it possible for a company to patent the contents of all RFC's pertaining to TCP/IP and then essentially own the internet?

It's completely off-topic (this is about copyright law) but here's an answer anyway: Patents are ideally about new inventions, which means that if someone can find 'prior art' (evidence someone was doing it before you) they can get your patent thrown out. (Ideally, extant prior art prevents the patent from being issued in the first place.) An RFC, pretty much by definition, is very good evidence of prior art, especially if it's a very well-known one, as all of the ones relating to TCP/IP are.

In the real world, things get not so much more complex as a whole lot stupider. Still, I think the courts could muddle through that one with minimal problems.

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