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Astrolabe withdraws copyright suit over Internet time zone database

Company apologizes, says it made a mistake

A copyright lawsuit targeting the administrators of a key time zone (TZ) database used widely in operating systems, applications and to set computer clocks, has been withdrawn by the company that filed it last September.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts on Wednesday, Brewster, Mass.-based Astrolabe said it was dismissing all of its claims against Arthur Olson and Paul Eggert, the two people named in the lawsuit.

The company also issued a statement in which it apologized to Olson and Eggert and promised not to sue them over the same issue in the future. Olson, an IT specialist at the National Cancer Institute, and Eggert, a computer professor at the University of California in Los Angeles, are voluntary custodians of the time zone database.

"Astrolabe's lawsuit against Mr. Olsen (sic) and Mr. Eggert was based on a flawed understanding of the law," the company said in a statement this week to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which had intervened in the case on behalf of Olson and Eggert.

"We deeply regret the disruption that our lawsuit caused for the volunteers who maintain the TZ database, and for Internet users," Astrolabe said.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which currently maintains the time zone or zoneinfo database, describes it as a database containing code and data representing the "history of local time for many representative locations around the globe. It is updated periodically to reflect changes made by political bodies to time zone boundaries, UTC offsets, and daylight-saving rules."

Astrolabe is a developer of astrology software program. Last September, it claimed that Olson and Eggert violated its copyrights when they used information from a copyrighted Astrolabe atlas in the time zone database. In its complaint, the company alleged that references to historic international time zone data were taken directly from Astrolabe's ACS Atlas.

The lawsuit resulted in Olson disabling public access to the database temporarily, causing what the EFF described as "tremendous damage to a vital public resource."

EFF, which stepped in to defend Olson and Eggert, in January fired off a letter to Astrolabe asking it to withdraw the complaint. In its letter, EFF noted that the lawsuit had no basis in either copyright law or any other law. The letter noted that Olson and Eggert had relied on Astrolabe's Atlas for historical facts, which are not copyrightable "no matter how much time and effort is invested in gathering them."

"Facts - like what time the sun rises - are not copyrightable," Corryne McSherry, intellectual property director for the EFF wrote in a blog post Tuesday.

In its letter, the EFF warned Astrolabe that Olson and Eggert would ask the court to sanction the company for filing a frivolous lawsuit if Astrolable did not withdraw it. This week's dismissal of the case follows that letter.

"We now recognize that historical facts are no one's property and, accordingly, are withdrawing our Complaint," Astrolabe said.

A company spokeswoman said Astrolabe did not have anything to add to its statement to the EFF.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is [email protected] .

See more by Jaikumar Vijayan on Computerworld.com .

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