In association with heise online

23 February 2012, 10:30

Time zone database lawsuit dismissed

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has announced that it has been successful in the dispute surrounding a copyright claim that was filed against the makers of the "tz" time zone database in October 2011. The EFF said that the complainant, astrology software company Astrolabe, has apologised and withdrawn the complaint; Astrolabe is also reported to have agreed to a "covenant not to sue" (a formal, legally binding promise not to sue in this matter) which, the EFF says, will help protect the database from future baseless legal actions and disruptions.

Astrolabe had filed a complaint against Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, who co-ordinated the development of the database for many years. The EFF came to the help of the two researchers, arguing that facts such as the time when the sun rises are not copyrightable. In January, the EFF warned Astrolabe that Olson and Eggert would move for sanctions if Astrolabe did not withdraw its complaint. According to the EFF's announcement, Astrolabe decided to withdraw yesterday, saying that the complaint was based on a "flawed understanding of the law"; the company added that it now recognises that "historical facts are no-one's property". Astrolabe was also reported as saying that it deeply regrets the disruption the lawsuit caused for the volunteers who maintain the time zone database and for internet users.

The time zone database is a public domain project and contains historical local time data for selected places around the globe – for example for "Europe/London". It is used by many web sites and Java applications as well as almost all versions of Unix and Linux. The database is typically updated once a month because time zone information is subject to frequent changes. When the complaint was filed, the database briefly disappeared from the FTP servers, but it became available again only a few days later on different servers.


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