back to article Chaos feared after Unix time-zone database is nuked

The internet's authoritative source for time-zone data has been shut down after the volunteer programmer who maintained it was sued for copyright infringement by a maker of astrology software. David Olson, custodian of the Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Database, said on Thursday he was retiring the FTP server he's long …


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          1. AdamWill

            they didn't own it

            astrolabe only just bought the database, which is why they're suing now. The _previous_ owner clearly didn't have a problem with the tz database.

      1. Asiren

        Oh, right...

        Blame the programmer. The man maintains a database for free, people use it for their own programming, and his database gets taken offline.

        So it becomes *his* fault that *everyone else* couldn't be arsed to pay for a proper database and therefore MADE him the single point of failure. What if he'd had a heart attack and died?? Same problem, but would you still blame him?

        It's like someone handing out free coffee on the street. He gets shut down as someone finds out he's been using the water from their garden faucet of their house for the coffee each day, and everyone else gripes that it's *his* fault they don't get free coffee in the morning any more. As supposed to going to Starbucks and buying their own mud-water.

        IT WAS A FREE SERVICE. What do you expect?

        1. Aaron Em

          "What do you expect?"

          I expect some basic sense of responsibility, I suppose, or at least the wit to understand that, as in your free coffee example, giving away something you've got no right to doesn't suddenly become okay because you're not charging money for it.

          Speaking of which, in that example, it *is* his fault they don't get free coffee in the morning any more. If he hadn't committed theft of services in order to give it to them, they'd never have had free coffee in the first place, and wouldn't be upset by its sudden absence. The thief created the untenable expectation; of *course* it's his fault that expectation is no longer satisfied! It wouldn't even exist if not for him.

          But you're right -- why bother? There's obviously no point; I must re-educate myself to understand that the true determinant of whether a law has value is whether or not it is popular. Demos is God! And that's worked out so beautifully in the UK so far, hasn't it?

          1. Rob Crawford


            Angry Angry he's so very angry.

            although it wasn't a good example, your statements where almost totally unrelated to any known facts (of which there are very little)

            So before shouting theft why not wait until there is some real information.

            The main gist of the story is the short sighted behemoths of the IT industry who where using a free service and there appears to be no replacement.

            You aren't an employee of Astro thingie are you?

          2. Richard 12 Silver badge

            What gives you the right to be judge and jury, Aaron Em?

            You have no evidence whatsoever, and you're not a lawyer.

            I've read the complaint and it looks like utter bollocks to me.

            The references in the complaint don't say what Astrolabe claim they say, and they appear to be claiming that they hold the copyright on all forms of timezone data, which is impossible because timezones are defined by public domain information - in the US, that's even written in statute.

            You can only copyright a particular publication of public domain information - I can publish my own set of timezone data and hold copyright of that particular way of showing them, but that does not stop anyone else from publishing that same data in a different way.

            Even though the contained data is ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL, because both of us live on the same planet.

            Of course, I'm not a lawyer either.

      2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

        Umm, I think the modern concept is the idea that creativity is something that children do with finger paints and the illustrious forebears you refer to would have had no trouble with the OP's statement.

        The two of you seem to be in agreement on substance and differing only in the choice of language.

        And with regard to your final paragraph, I think the "jury's still out" on whether the complaint is valid and we shall see in the next few days whether the database actually is a single point of failure or whether, in fact, it has been replicated across the world.

      3. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart

        @Aaron Em, such utter crap

        "Copyright and patent are intended to see to it that people who invent things can get paid. And, at least from the article, it does look as though Olson was unlawfully republishing Astrolabe's copyrighted work in the public domain,"

        So are you saying Astrolabe invented timezones or own the copyright on timezones? Such utter crap.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >"Copyright and patent are intended to see to it that people who invent things can get paid."

        Wow, what a load of historically-ignorant wish-fulfillment garbage you wrote there. Copyright was not intended to "see to it" that people get paid; it was intended, in the US at any rate, "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." In the UK its original purpose was "the Encouragement of Learning". Nothing to do with the quick-buck-mentality-ayn-randist-wank-fantasy you have proposed.

        1. Rob Crawford


          it's is NOT to permit an originator of a product have the exclusive rights to manufacture and exploit it for a given period?

          The process had to be disclosed

          1: so the other 'innovators' could confirm that they didn't infringe an existing product

          2: to prevent spurious claims of infringement by an existing patent holder (ie your new washing machine uses the same method as my old design, even though I do not detail how my washing machine works)

          3: Vague patent claims which contain vague wording and objectives

          Oh well looks like they have failed on all three points then.

          The effects company Z-Vex resorted to hand painted enclosures because any body bootlegging their product could be prosecuted as art forgeries under international treaties. Apparently it's too hard to copyright a circuit (though almost all amplifier circuits are cribbed from 1930's RCA technical notes anyway)

          1. Jonathan Richards 1

            @Rob Crawford 11:40

            Please can we distinguish between patents, which you are discussing here, and copyrights, which are the subject of the suit between Astrolabe and Olson?


        2. david wilson

          >>"Copyright was not intended to "see to it" that people get paid; it was intended, in the US at any rate, "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." In the UK its original purpose was "the Encouragement of Learning". Nothing to do with the quick-buck-mentality-ayn-randist-wank-fantasy you have proposed."

          Speaking as a definite non-fan of Rand, surely a lot comes down to what perspective you look at it from?

          Allowing people to control (and profit from) their works is a fairly good incentive for people to create things in the first place and make them available to the public in the second place.

          Copyright/patents might have an ultimate goal of increasing the amount of stuff that's invented and publicised, but surely a primary means by which they hope to achieve that goal is making it possible to be a professional creator, or more rewarding to be a creator in general.

          And that's leaving aside any moral argument as to whether creators /deserve/ to get paid.

          If people think they do deserve that, then one ultimate goal of copyright/patent law really /is/ to see that they get paid

      5. JimC

        Encourage Creativity...

        Lots of bizarre logic chopping here as usual on this topic... I think the point is that copyright was intended to encourage creativity *by ensuring that creators get paid*.

        1. Stevie Silver badge


          Well said that man.

      6. steward

        Maybe you should have read the Constitution in kindergarten

        Or at least before you posted your highly inaccurate polemic on US Constitutional law.

        "To promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries;" (Art. I, section 8, US Constitution)

        If you can't figure out that the "progress of science and useful arts" is "creativity", you should back away from the keyboard. Permanently.

        1. Aaron Em

          Kindergarten, eh?

          Sounds like about your level of understanding. You do know that the Constitution isn't the only law of the land, yes? And you do know that proof-texting in the complete and deliberate ignorance of any sort of context, as with a Southern Baptist preacher working to prove a point to his flock, isn't generally accepted as the dominant tradition of American legal interpretation, yes? Because you don't show any evidence of either.

          But somehow you're more to be trusted with a keyboard than I am. Are Fisher-Price making "My First Computer" toys with real Ethernet jacks now, or what?

      7. unitron

        Some concepts are more modern than others...

        "Copyright and patent are not intended to encourage creativity; this is a modern concept, of the sort you find in a kindergarten, and wasn't thought of (nor did it need to be) by our illustrious forebears, who quite rightly valued the ingenuity and competence once characteristic of Americans far more than they did something like 'creativity' which a toddler can achieve with finger paints."

        Here, let me google Wikipedia for you.

        Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution, known as the Copyright Clause, empowers the United States Congress:

        “ To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries. ”

        It's only been in there since 1787.

        "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts..."

        That's 18th Century-speak for "...encourage creativity..."

  1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Astrolabe will be the big loser here

    Didn't they see this in the stars?


    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Keyboard, eat hot, er,.... tea!

  2. Roadkill

    Dear Astrolabe

    "I hereby call on the industry leaders to help sort this out,” Colebourne wrote. “IBM, Oracle, Apple, Google, RedHat I'm looking at you." called down the thunder, now reap the whirlwind.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Pardon me whilst I ...

    ... put a copyright, trademark & patent on the movement of all the bits & pieces that make up the observable Universe (1).

    With a rider that includes all the bits that we can't observe (yet).

    The US patent office and attendant set of rules & regulations is completely corrupt & needs revamping.

    (1) Including aircraft, ships, trains, and auto/truck/cycle/skate/ski et ali transport, of course, which have a hell of a lot more of an effect on people day to day than anything astrology related ... including the effect of their gravitational attraction.

    1. Tommy Pock

      Sorry, I claim prior art. The universe and everything in it and everything which will be in it is already in the public domain. The future, of course, is an abstract concept of time which already exists, so is also covered.

  4. Yes Me Silver badge

    Let's hope that is unaffected by this troll attack.

    1. T.a.f.T.

      Don't give them a URL! It took decades before the stars spelt out the one for the tz!

  5. Wombling_Free

    Infringement of patents claim.

    Dear Mr. Astrolabe.

    We represent the patent holder for 'system of lung-based oxygen respiration', 'system of ATP-based organic cellular energy storage and conversion', 'system of musculature to maintain breathing'.

    You have been found to be using these technologies without the appropriate royalty fees, and thus you are ordered to CEASE AND DESIST IMMEDIATELY any use of these technologies.

    It is noted that you have not paid the royalties for 'system of neuron-based reasoning and intelligence' however we can find no evidence you have used that technology, based on the fact that you claim to be an Astrologer.

    Yours, with much malice & hatred,

    Troll, Camp, Snipe & Bastard, Lawyers.

    1. Naughtyhorse

      reasoning and intelligence

      from a crowd of fucking table thumpers.....

      dont think so

  6. David Gosnell

    Well who'd have predicted that?


  7. Gert Selkobi


    Shoot the lawyers.

    If there were ever a worthy target for the likes of Anonymous and the like then here it is. Both Astrolabe and the trolling lawyers who have brought this about.

    As was said above, let them suffer for their actions.

  8. Big Al


    The excellent FoxClocks addon for Firefox also uses (used?) this resource, too :(

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Some organisation outside of the US can pick this up within a few days and get it up and running again?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      MS seem to manage their own list.

  10. SteveK

    As I doubt a bunch of constellation-botherers came up with timezones, surely there is prior art? OK, perhaps a chunk of information was copied from their book which was a bit naughty, but that can just be re-created from other sources - probably the same places they got their information from in the first place?


    1. AdamWill


      Please get your legal concepts straight. 'Prior art' is a concept from patent law. Has nothing to do with a copyright suit.

  11. Rolf Howarth

    The size or nature of the participants in the case should have no bearing on the outcome. Imagine it was the other way round and an individual had compiled some data through lots of hard work and then some organisation like Apple or Google came along and decided to appropriate it for their purposes, claiming it was for the public good. Everyone's sympathies would be with the original developer.

    Really, we need a lot more details on the claim before we can pass any sort of judgment.

    1. Tomato42 Silver badge

      It's a description of time zones FFS! Historical, governmental supplied, dry data.

      It's similar to a math textbook publisher suing you for using the algorithm for multiplication of two numbers or a chemical textbook and using the atomic numbers provided there for mol calculations.

      They didn't invent it, they didn't observe it, they just cataloged it and sold the catalog. The guy bought the catalog and (possibly, probably) used it to set few historical values only.

      The guy was showing the world "this is a good source material, if you want more info, look there". Now they're suing him for this.

      It's FAIL so gigantic that only lawyers can come up with.

      1. Eddie Edwards

        The point is - and this is so mind-numbingly obvious I'm surprised it didn't occur to your keyboard as you typed that - if all the source material ends up in the database no one will need to buy the book.

        What it's actually similar to is the postcode database, or Google Earth's images, or the Ordnance Survey's maps, all of which are well-known to be subject to copyright.

        1. Tomato42 Silver badge

          @Eddie and AC

          From what we know, he didn't copy it whole, only used part of the tables.

          Using Google's Earth's or Ordnance Survey's maps is copying the data verbatim. Using it to calculate (and then publish) how long is this and that street, or how far is city A from city B doesn't break the copyright.

          If the guy copied (which I seriously doubt) most of his data from the astrology books, then yes, he could be guilty of copyright infringement.

          You still have to remember that he didn't publish the astrologers data verbatim, not in whole and he did convert it from dead trees, human-readable format to format not understandable even to vast majority of techs, let alone general population.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            So it's all right if a burglar breaks into your house and steals your CD collection but uses only some of them. How much must one use before it becomes a problem?

            I would have thought that one should expect to get permission and be prepared to pay before using the results of someone else's work, unless they say, explicitly, that this is not necessary. All work is based on something else, usually that was free at some point. How many of you would be happy not to be paid for any work you do, on the basis that it is not original or was easy to do or whatever other foolish excuse is mooted on this site?

            To reiterate the other interesting concern of contributors: hardly believable that a large proportion of internet users, including some serious applications, has been relying on an unpaid volunteer on his own, presumably not especially reliable hardware, in his spare bedroom or somewhere. What if he got hit by a bus, when he gets too old, bored, ill, busy or broke? Sometimes the organisation of the internet seems too bizarre to be fiction, worryingly so. Is it not time we all grew up and relearnt the old lesson - no such thing as a free lunch.

            1. Richard 12 Silver badge

              Copyright infringement is NOT theft.

              There's a clue in the name of the (civil or criminal) offence.

              Theft means depriving the rightful owner of the article in question.

              Copyright Infringement means making a copy of something without permission - the original is untouched.

              If you want to use the 'burglar' comparison, imagine a miscreant who parks outside your house and somehow manages to make a duplicate copy of everything of your CD collection magically appear inside his van.

              At no point does he enter your house, and all your stuff is still exactly where you left it.

              That's copyright infringement.

              The legal 'monetary damage' from copyright infringement comes from the idea that the miscreant might then sell the copies he made to entities who might have otherwise purchased them from you, depriving you of possible income.

              The sooner you understand the basic concepts the better, so I'll repeat it:

              Copyright Infringement is *not* theft.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        If this information is so easy to get hold of then the guy who hosted the database wouldn't have had to go to any trouble in order to compile his own list.

        It appears that he did think it was too much trouble, so got his data from a database/table that someone else had compiled.

        Either the data are trivial to get hold of, or they're not. This is very much like the people who run their Pub Quizes based on questions in Trivial Persuit (etc) they could have made up the same questions themselves, but they didn't, they just took someone else's without asking or paying for their work.

        It's also not simple data, as people have pointed out above, many countries have wierd and wonderful timezones and they change them from year to year, so it's dynamic and needs to be maintained.

        I am also wondering why IBM, Red Hat, HP, Sun et al don't supply their own list, especially if this data is so easy to get hold of, MS seem to manage to do so.

  12. Majid

    A patent on time..

    Darn why didn't I think of that...

  13. DogTrack


    IANA has a plan

    I don't blame him for folding the service. He was already planning to retire, has run the service for free which many commercial companies have used extensively for commercial purposes, and he probably doesn't want the hassle of a long complicated court case when he could just turn it off and retire. It was his announcement of retirement which led to the IANA plan.

    It is the likes on Red at who should look to back him at this time... if help is wanted.

  14. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

    Now astronomers have one more reason to detest astrology

    only lawyers will benefit from this.

  15. T.a.f.T.


    The second link to TDP contains a statment that would surly be enough to throw out the case on day one?

    "First, copyright law does not protect strictly-factual information. The Copyright Act only protects the expression of facts. 17 USC 102(b) clearly states:

    In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work."

    Some grid co-ordinates and dates are facts & where did the atlas get these facts from in the first place? Is there a citation in the book? Wonder if Google books will let me read the copywrite & reference pages for free...

  16. Dixx

    Play nice FFS

    Can't you just stick a google ad on the site and send the proceeds to the "aggrieved" party? World of astrology meets world of practicality.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      And how does a google ad work on an FTP database?

  17. Dave Bell

    Just how significant it this?

    When I've installed an OS, it's always asked me which time zone I'm in. It's sometimes made a suggestion (which was correct) but it's never been completely automatic.

    Was this really so vital a service?

    1. Sir Cosmo Bonsor

      I think you might be missing the point

      It's not a database of what time zone Dave Bell happens to be in at this moment.

    2. David Cantrell

      Yes, it's vital. Quickly, answer these questions: at 1969-11-11Z01:00, what was the local time in London? And in Moscow? And in Hobart? And when it's 2012-03-15 04:00 in London what will the local time be in Maine and in Arizona?

      1. Philip Lewis

        Yup, now we're cooking

        Speaking as someone who is responsible for a system that validates relative time values from every part of the globe, to the tune of 200+ million calculations a day currently, I can attest to the fact that this is a non-trival problem to solve. Mainly because it is a political problem open to local whims. TZs are neither static nor standardised - they never have been.

        I commend the biography of Sir Sandford Flemming "Time Lord" by Clarke Blaise for those interested in an interesting yarn, and the history of how and why TZs all came into being and the players in the process.

        We PAY with cold hard cash for the base time zone information. In our case we only have the data from when we started paying, about 5 years ago. I looked specifically into obtaining data from the net, however at the time (pun intended) there seemed to be no real authoritative and reliable source. Despite the fact that we are in fact the world's largest "scraper" of data from the internet, I chose NOT to source the information that way as the internet is a fundamentally unreliable beast and as many people are finding out, just because it's "free on the net", doesn't make it a reliable or even remotely accurate source.


        1. AdamWill


          "however at the time (pun intended) there seemed to be no real authoritative and reliable source"

          tzdata has been the authoritative source used by just about every OS and web app I've seen for years (anything that has America/White Horse, for e.g., is almost certainly using tzdata), so I'm not sure where you got that idea. Can't think of any other database that's close to the prevalence tzdata has.


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