back to article ICANN rescues time zone database

The internet once again knows what time it is, after ICANN took over responsibility for the Time Zone Database. Earlier this month, the long-time custodian of the database David Olsen took its FTP server offline after being threatened with a copyright trolling. The lawsuit had been initiated by astrology software vendor …


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  1. ratfox


    It is sad that you need to be an organization such as ICANN to dare take the bluff of such a ridiculous lawsuit.

    H2646 – Kill all the lawyers.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      "H2646 – Kill all the lawyers."

      Not going to pass because that would endanger the ridiculous US nobel peace prize holder and the downright evil US attorney general.

      Btw, dear author: > royalties are owned. .. should be > royalties are owed, or "rent is requested"

      1. Adrian Challinor

        royalties are owned

        No, it should read " royalties are CLAIMED".

        There is still the issue that Astrolabe are claiming royalty on what is an agreed historical fact - namely that the timezone computation for a specific place was amended on a specific date; and what the old and new calculations are.

        1. Eddie Edwards
          Thumb Down

          Oh, do we still believe that collections of facts possess no copyright protection? I would have thought that Royal Mail and the Ordnance Survey put that myth to rest many, many years ago, if Wisden, Moore's Almanac, et al didn't do it decades earlier.

          1. AdamWill


            you realize you're citing UK precedents for a US case, right? the courts aren't generally keen on that.

            1. Graham Marsden

              I've just heard from the Catholic Church...

              ... who are claiming royalties from everyone for using the Gregorian Calendar...!

          2. localzuk

            The Post Code database is created and operated by Royal Mail, and as such they are entitled to ownership and royalties.

            Ordnance Survey maps are basically artistic works, based on observations and created by cartographers. There is nothing to stop someone else drawing maps as accurate.

            Timezones are not owned. They are just timezones, with their boundaries and exact offsets set by governments. So, if I were to go around and research government orders for the last, say, 100 years, and build up my own TZ database, I would not be infringing on anyone's copyright.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            US precedents regarding copyright for databases such as this are different from UK precedents. No guarantee of winning, but the precedent has been set.

          4. bazza Silver badge

            @Eddie Edwards: Wrong Precedents

            Apart from using UK precedents in reference to a US case, you've missed the critical difference.

            The OS and GPO are the originators of the OS maps and the UK postcodes. The scores in Wisden are public knowledge - everyone who watched the game knew the score - but the statistics are their own work. Moore's Almanac is a mixture of things that are public knowledge and their own work. For instance, Moore's don't actually do their own tide table calculations do they? Nor do they set the horse race fixtures either. But the 'predictions', despite their doubtful probabilities, are Moore's works.

            The information that Astrolabe is claiming as theirs did not originate in their precious encyclopedia, it is merely recorded within. Astrolabe have never been the originators of official timezone data; state legislatures are. And since when were laws copyrighted?

            If the time database had merely put up a scanned image of the pages from the encyclopedia that would have been ripping off their compilation. But they didn't, the database merely said that the information happened to be recorded in the encyclopedia. It amounts to free publicity for the encyclopedia, nothing more.

            I just hope that there aren't enough lunatics out there to make the publicity that Astrolabe are getting from this case profitable in terms of additional book sales offsetting what I hope are the crippliingly high legal bills that are justifiably heading their way.

  2. banjomike

    Yay, ICANN

    Astrolabe, get stuffed.

  3. Notas Badoff

    Sun, moon, stars... and ringing in your ears

    One more time... did AstroLube foresee this happening?

    Interesting background to all this is the people suing bought the database and materials at a bankruptcy auction. Sounds like copyright trolls - their 'real' targets are other astrology software companys.

    The latest in a series of charming analyses of their claims:,guid,103d30f9-4d58-4b72-9f5a-8db45ed8a641.aspx

    "We aren't pissed at you because you're astrologers; we're pissed at you because you're stupid."

  4. nyelvmark

    Well, as pub landlords always say, "If you want to call time by your watch, buy a pub".

  5. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Now do something really worthwhile ICANN.

    Jump all over this troll with, as they say, extreme prejudice

  6. Microphage

    How are these files used?

    They look to me like free form text files ... with lots of interesting factoids such as:

    `An old stone obelisk marking a forgotten terrestrial meridian stands beside the river at Kew. In the 18th century, before time and longitude was standardised by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, scholars observed this stone and the movement of stars from Kew Observatory nearby', europe

    Time Zone Data v. 2011l (Released 10 October 2011) tzdata2011l.tar.gz (203kb)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Hardly "free form"…

      The comments (lines starting with #) are… to aid the humans maintaining the files in knowing what a particular line or block of non-comment is saying.


      # Queensland


      # From Alex Livingston (1996-11-01):

      # I have heard or read more than once that some resort islands off the coast

      # of Queensland chose to keep observing daylight-saving time even after

      # Queensland ceased to.


      # From Paul Eggert (1996-11-22):

      # IATA SSIM (1993-02/1994-09) say that the Holiday Islands (Hayman, Lindeman,

      # Hamilton) observed DST for two years after the rest of Queensland stopped.

      # Hamilton is the largest, but there is also a Hamilton in Victoria,

      # so use Lindeman.



      Rule AQ 1971 only - Oct lastSun 2:00s 1:00 -

      Rule AQ 1972 only - Feb lastSun 2:00s 0 -

      Rule AQ 1989 1991 - Oct lastSun 2:00s 1:00 -

      Rule AQ 1990 1992 - Mar Sun>=1 2:00s 0 -

      Rule Holiday 1992 1993 - Oct lastSun 2:00s 1:00 -

      Rule Holiday 1993 1994 - Mar Sun>=1 2:00s 0 -

      Zone Australia/Brisbane 10:12:08 - LMT 1895

      10:00 Aus EST 1971

      10:00 AQ EST

      Zone Australia/Lindeman 9:55:56 - LMT 1895

      10:00 Aus EST 1971

      10:00 AQ EST 1992 Jul

      10:00 Holiday EST

      (line 52 onwards from "australasia", in tzdata2011h.tar.gz)

      The comments explain the discrepancy in one particular time zone from the others. Hardly "trivial" factoids. In the example you quoted (europe, line 87 onwards in my version) that passage is explaining the time-zone rules that apply to London around the 18th Century.

      It makes sense to keep the time-zone rules, and the source information for those rules, in a similar place.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Astrology ?

    Do they live in the dark ages?

    Or are they just after the moola?

    1. Armando 123


      And yes.

    2. Peter Simpson 1

      Do they live in the Dark Ages?

      They're *astrologers*.

      //hope you don't weigh the same as a duck...

  8. Naughtyhorse

    one more time...

    shouldnt said trolls have seen this coming?

  9. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Biased reporting and freetard mentality

    "David Olsen took its FTP server offline after being threatened with a copyright trolling"

    Are you so sure it's "copyright rolling" and not legitimate "pursuit of alleged copyright breach"? Is it not for the courts to decide that?

    There's going to be a lot of egg on face if the courts finds there has been a breach of copyright, and this could be music to Astrolab's ears - If I were their lawyer I'd continue to pursue the case against Olsen, if I lose I shrug and walk away, if I win I can then sue ICANN for the same with the matter pre-judged and ICANN have very deep pockets.

    Copyright issues aren't - and shouldn't be - judged on what freetards would like but on what the law says. If the law is an ass then get it changed, but I'm sure I'll be getting down-voted by those very same freetards who are offended by that notion.

    1. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

      The copyright was bought at a bankruptcy auction; a purchase which has little legitimate purpose beyond enabling the holder to sue for damages related to breach.

      So yes, this is copyright trolling.

      Besides, who said copyright trolling isn't legitimate? Sure the firms (and lawyers) that troll are an ugly pustulating boil on the face of Lady Justice, but that doesn't mean they're not technically legitimate - or are you claiming here that the copyright holder's case has no merit?

    2. T.Keaton
      Thumb Down

      You've missed the point

      The point is that there were better ways for Astrolabe to handle this than essentially throwing a tantrum, picking up their ball and going home. The end result being to alienate the world at large and cripple potentially critical industries.

      Legal action is a last resort for when civilised people cannot find common ground. For legal action to be rendered as the default reaction is unacceptable. Yes, this applies to business as well.

      1. Ru

        "a last resort for when... people cannot find common ground"

        There's some legal bumf that was published on the web very shortly after this whole sorry episode came to light in which Astrolabe claimed to have tried to contact the maintainer of the tzdata and at least one other associated individual.

        Hopefully, the database maintainers didn't just bin the messages and hope that they were just an idle threat, and that would be slightly unprofessional of them.

        1. Peter Simpson 1

          It does really depend on how

          If the attempted contact was by email or even regular postal mail, shame on Astrolabe! If it's this important, it should have been certified mail. That might explain why they received no response.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Part of the problem is that when the people do manage to get a law fixed or created, it only takes one dumbass judge to unmake or break it and the whole process has to start again. Judges are far too difficult to get fired when they make mistakes, even if they do it for years and years. The whole system is, of course, designed by lawyers to benefit lawyers and judges are all senior lawyers.

        3. Tom 13

          Even if they did just bin them

          because the mail filters were set to keep out frauds, that still is not the legally binding method for contacting a potential defendant. It must be done by certified letter. And even if they had contacted by certified letter, this being a well established area of copyright law that Astrolabe's lawyers are attempting to rewrite via intimidation, a legal proper FU would still have been in order.

          1. Robert A. Rosenberg

            Certified Letters

            Interestingly a certified letter that is refused (and thus returned to the sender) and presented unopened to the court has more legal standing than one that was actually delivered and signed for. In the refused case there is proof of what was attempted to be sent while in the latter case all there is proof of is that a certified letter was sent NOT its content. IOW: Sending blank paper has just as much standing as sending the actual letter so far as claiming what was sent. If/When the case goes to trial then the recipient can present what was in the envelope so blank paper is better than an innocuous letter since that latter can be proof of a fraudulent claim that the sender's copy was the same as what was in the envelope.

            A certified letter (and Green Return Receipt Card) is proof to the sender that the letter was delivered and accepted. Since there is no proof of the content of the letter in the case of acceptance, there is just an assumption by the court of the contents not proof of its contents.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > Are you so sure it's "copyright rolling" and not legitimate "pursuit of alleged copyright breach"? Is it not for the courts to decide that?

      Yes it is for the courts to decide that and the courts made a decision in 1991 in Feist v. Rural:


      (a) Article I, 8, cl. 8, of the Constitution mandates originality as a prerequisite for copyright protection. The constitutional requirement necessitates independent creation plus a modicum of creativity. Since facts do not owe their origin to an act of authorship, they are not original, and thus are not copyrightable. Although a compilation of facts may possess the requisite originality because the author typically chooses which facts to include, in what order to place them, and how to arrange the data so that readers may use them effectively, copyright protection extends only to those components of the work that are original to the author, not to the facts themselves. This fact/expression dichotomy severely limits the scope of protection in fact-based works. Pp. 344-351.


      The time zone data is simply a collection of facts and as such is not copyrightable. It would cost Olsen 10s of thousands of dollars to establish this with little prospect of recovering the costs.

      > If I were their lawyer I'd continue to pursue the case against Olsen, if I lose I shrug and walk away, if I win I can then sue ICANN for the same with the matter pre-judged and ICANN have very deep pockets.

      Doesn't work that way with copyright trolls. They were simply looking for Olsen to cave in and pay them a fee. The action against Olsen wouldn't affect anything against ICANN as it would never reach judgement. Olsen would run out of money before then.

    4. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Thumb Down


      Yes, I see what you did there. Trying to suggest that anyone who down votes you is a 'freetard'. Well I'm not, and I have.


      ... and have a big down thumb here too.

    5. TRT Silver badge

      No, no, you're quite right. The law is required and when it doesn't suit or has omissions, then it should be updated.

      However in this case the law is quite clear. Astrolabe published a compendium containing factual data which they had assembled, and this compendium was quoted as the source for some of the data in the database. Factual data is NOT subject to copyright, trademark or other intellectual property protection, merely the way in which such data are presented, i.e. logos, typeface, layout, illustrations etc. This case should be thrown out at the first hearing.

    6. Havin_it


      The old "I'll probably get downvoted" gambit, eh? I've never seen it fail before, but you have deployed it and actually still got downvoted. Psy-ops FAIL.

      (FWIW I think you have a point, but the rapid involvement of IANA/IETF/ICANN in this does sort of give the lie to the assertion that the only interested parties are "freetards".)

    7. Grease Monkey Silver badge

      Ah but how do Astrolab claim to own time zone data? It's generally up to governments to decide what timezone their country sits in, whether or not they observe DST, on what dates they observe DST and by how many hours. All this information is publicly available and anybody could gather it together.

      So explain it again as you are clearly an expert on copyright law: How do astrolab claim to own copyright on this information?

  10. mark 63 Silver badge


    The vultures that bought the wreckage of the astrology company must have been over the moon to see that the whole internet was using their database to tell the time!

    So are ICANN continuing to breach copyright? , or using a different source? or payingh royalties to the vultures.

    Can you really trust a database made up by a bunch of astrologers???

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A legal precedence was set in the US in the 1990s that should mean that the data is not subject to copyright laws. It appears that they are not paying royalties, they are calling the astrologer's bluff. Perhaps they should have consulted an astrologer to find out that the responsibility for distributing the public database would be taken over by an organization that can afford to hire lawyers.

  11. Gert Selkobi

    @Jason Bloomberg

    The thing is, until recently, Astrolabe were themselves in breach of copyright, by using photographs of famous people on their website, without permission. These photographs have since been removed. There will be obvious evidence of this, despite the fact that they have tried to brush away that evidence.

    As has been mentioned already, they bought the rights for the data at a bankruptcy auction, it's not like they created it themselves. Morally, they are in the wrong.

    Where we do seem to agree, is that the law is indeed an ass and needs to be changed. Just because a corrupt law says that they /may/ have grounds to sue, it doesn't make it right.

    Us 'freetards' are looking at the morals of this case, more than anything else, I know I am. We have a right to express our moral outrage at this case. If the case is ruled in in Astrolabe's favour, it won't be egg on my face, but a look of disappointment and despair at 'the system'.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well done to them

    And another "Well done" to David Olsen for his years of service.

  13. Danny 5


    random rant regarding patent. :(

    sigh.... just... sigh :(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Which is pointless since this is about copyright

  14. Tom 13

    I'm surprised David Olsen didn't open a web site to take donations

    for his countersuit. I know I'd be happy to chip in a Benjamin for the cause (and usually I'm only good for a Lincoln).

    1. Chris 242

      David Olsen

      I'm suprised David Ike isn't havin' a haf'pennies worth of comment !

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A database of facts copyrightable?

    AIUI European Court of Justice has decided that a database of facts was copyrightable!

    refrence is made to it in:

    I wonder what has happened. The UK Fottball Association was threatening Yahoo and others claiming copyright of their fixture lists.

    n.b. "1991 in Feist v. Rural" was in the USA as is Astrolabe and Olsen

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not quite.

      They reached the decision because there was selection and arrangement in the choice of dates on which the fixtures were played and the decisions as to which match is played on which date. Therefore there was a creative element in creating the list.

      Astrolabe has no decisions as to the selection of dates for time zones changes (BST to GMT for example) or which countries are in which time zones. Therefore there is no possibility of a creative element.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    iCANN haz NTP?!

    It's not as catchy as Cheezburger

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    No man's property is safe while the legislature is in session

    The whole point of copyright was to encourage the people to publish art and useful stuff by giving them the ability to make a living at it. Here that original purpose has been twisted until it is unrecognizable. If we continue down this road no one will be able to publish except those with the wealth to engage in courtroom trench warfare -- and many of those people are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, having come on their wherewithal by the smarts of those around them (who they change as often as they do their own socks). Perhaps the question should be put to Astrolabe as to what value they put on their copyright "rights" here: for example would they be willing to trade them to continue to receive access to the public Internet for the brief time their company will continue to exist before it collapses on itself through stupid business moves like this?

    They (Astrolabe) would also do well to heed the wise saying in the title of this comment.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Certified letters

    Person sending the *non*-blank actual letter need only arrange for an independent witness (even video*) to observe the process of posting the non-blank letter within the uniquely sealed (signed) envelope. Then when opposition claims under oath that the paper within the same envelope was blank, there'll be h*ll to pay when such claims are demonstrated to be false.

    (* New ethics rule - assume video is everywhere.)

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