Internet time guide scotched by astrology firm

A time-zone and daylight savings reference database used by systems including Mac OS X and Linux has been taken offline by a copyright suit brought by an astrology company

A database that many Unix-like computer systems use to provide an authoritative source for time-zone and daylight-savings data has been taken offline by a lawsuit from an astrology software company alleging copyright infringement. 

Astrolabe logo

Astrology firm Astrolabe has filed a lawsuit against a time-zone database alleging copyright infringement. Image credit: Astrolabe

The FTP server for the tz database has been taken down as a result of a lawsuit, lead contributor Arthur David Olson said in an email to a mailing list on Thursday.

"A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston; I'm a defendant; the case involves the time zone database," Olson said in a message, which also announced the closure of the mailing list. "The ftp server at elsie.nci.nih.gov has been shut down."

The tz database, also called zoneinfo, was used by a number of Linux-derived distributions to update clocks on computer systems for events such as daylight saving changes and leap seconds. Accurate time-stamp information is important for legal compliance purposes on systems, and is vital to track when events like transactions happen between computer systems in different time zones.

Software that used the tz database as a time-reference source included Gnu/Linux, BSD derived systems such as Apple's Mac OS X, Oracle database, Solaris and UnixWare. The database was hosted by the US National Institute of Health, and maintained by Olson and Paul Eggert, and also contains historical time zone information since 1970.

The suit was brought by Astrolabe, a company that produces astrology-related materials. Astrology is a belief that the movements and positions of astronomical bodies can be used to predict events and human characteristics.

The suit was filed in the District of Massachusetts District Court on 30 September, according to court documents.

Astrolabe alleged that Olson and Eggert infringed on its copyright by using information in the ACS Atlas, which contains time-zone data.

"As a direct and proximate cause of defendant Olson's unlawful and wrongful publication of some and/or any portion of the works, he has unlawfully deprived plaintiff of income it would have otherwise derived from sales of the same, and has wrongfully and unlawfully asserted that the information and/or date taken from the works is in the 'public domain'," said the court documents.

Astrolabe sent a takedown notice regarding tz database on 12 May to the National Institute of Health and the University of California Los Angeles, which had no effect. In the court documents, Astrolabe attorney Julie C Molloy requested temporary restraining orders against Olson and Eggert, followed by permanent injunctions, and damages including legal fees.


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