Thursday 13 October 2011

Time-zone database - Astrolabe's opinion

I have had the following email statement from Astrolabe forwarded to me with regards to the time-zone database dispute:

Shortly after filing a copyright violation lawsuit with the U.S District Court for Massachusetts against Mr. Arthur David Olson or Mr. Paul R. Eggert, Astrolabe Inc., received dozens of communications via emails, telephone calls, Facebook postings, tweets, and inquiries. While there have been some legitimate inquiries, many of these communications have been hostile and accusatory in nature; Astrolabe, Inc. has been attacked on many levels, leading it to conclude, after careful review of these communications, that the purpose of this lawsuit has been misunderstood by the media and the public. Astrolabe, Inc., seeks to clarify this purpose in an effort to clear the air, and allay misguided concerns, by clearly setting forth the relevant facts:

1. Astrolabe’s lawsuit is in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, or any other persons. Indeed, Astrolabe applauds the efforts of Olson, Eggert and the many other volunteers who maintain the database of current time changes.

2. The aim of the suit is only to enforce copyright protection for materials regarding historical time data prior to 2000. This does not affect current time-setting on computers, and it has little or no effect on the Unix computing world, as erroneously reported by various media outlets, to the best of Astrolabe’s knowledge.

3. Late in 2010, Astrolabe was disturbed to learn of the compilation effort of Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, which had been going on for a number of years, included not only current time-zone information, but also historical information. In response to Astrolabe’s inquiries, Mssrs. Olson and Eggert provided misleading answers, indicating that their database included only incidental and limited reproduction of the copyrighted material, however, further research by Astrolabe revealed that this was not the case, but instead consisted of wholesale reproduction of the same, without lawful permission, contract or license.

4. The fact is that the historical time data compiled by ACS is protected by registered copyrights, particularly in publication in book form as the International Atlas, and later in electronic form as the ACS PC Atlas. The question of whether the material is “copyrightable” has already been decided by the U.S. Copyright Office in the affirmative.

5. These Atlases are not simply “compilations” of historical, readily available “facts.” Besides researching “official” records, the publisher and authors consulted a myriad of other records using proprietary methods and, on some occasions, hiring local investigators. Where inconsistencies existed, the publisher and authors used their best judgments and expertise as to the actual time observed in specific locations, based on this historical research. In much the same way as Zagat Survey and Michelin Guide not only set forth the names, addresses and features of particular restaurants, but also various ratings, the Atlases comprise original historical time and location research, including judgments and expertise in determining actual historical time observed in any given location, fully meeting the definition of an “original work” as required under the Copyright Laws of the United States.


With growing globalization, an interest in arcane historical information, such as actual time observed in specific locations -- of vital import to the astrological community -- apparently has spread to the global community. As anyone with an interest in astrology will tell you, knowing the place and actual time when a particular event occurred is important. While the dubious may cast aspersions upon astrology, they cannot discount the contributions made regarding actual historical time observations by those interested in this field, or the utility such data may have in the current global community – nor should they be allowed to profit at the expense of the hard work and efforts of others.

(Email forwarded to me by Ken Hirsch who requested "on the record" comment. Its obviously been sent to others too, as seen here, and in a slightly longer form here)

I will again avoid commenting on the legal situation and let readers make their own judgements.

However I do note that Astrolabe are effectively saying that continued development of the time-zone database with new information based on Government changes is acceptable.


  1. Wouldn't historical timezone information be considered "facts"? If so (IANAL, etc. etc.) wouldn't Astrolabe's claim of copyright be invalid, as facts cannot (AFAIK) be copyrighted?

  2. The rub is whether their research constitutes an original work. I don't think that it does, but that is what the courts will have to decide.

  3. i'm sorry, but i cannot understand what kind of judgment Astrolab provides that used in time-zone databases?

  4. Regardless of their position, Astrolabe might want to consider the following: Just because you CAN do something (i.e. sue Olson and Eggert), doesn't mean you SHOULD. Again, regardless of their position, and regardless of the outcome of the suit, did they really think this would end well for them? Mr. Olson and Mr Eggert have been providing a valuable service to the entire computing community for, as far as I'm aware, no compensation. Astrolabe has just relegated themselves to douchebag status for the forseeable future and, I suspect, quite a bit beyond.

  5. @Anonymous 00:54
    They're astrologers. What did you expect?

  6. Astrolabe is a horrible company to have to deal with. Particularly that wench astrologer Madalyn Hillis-Dineen.

  7. Any update on the lawsuit so far? Has this been dismissed by now already?

  8. The EFF is working to get the suit dismissed, and they're pretty confident. See