EFF to ask for sanctions against copyright trolling astrologers

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is asking a judge to sanction the lawyers for Astrolabe, who launched a frivolous copyright lawsuit against Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert. These two researchers maintained the critical Internet timezone database, which is used by servers and PCs and phones all over the world to figure out how to correctly display timestamps and local time. The lawsuit claims that Astrolabe has a copyright on the facts of what timezone is in effect in what place, and this is plainly incorrect. US law "requires litigants to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the facts and law before filing any paper with the court," and any such inquiry would have shown that there was no basis for a suit.

Quick background: last fall, Astrolabe, an astrology software company, sued Arthur David Olson and Paul Eggert, researchers who have coordinated the development of a database of time zone information for decades. The database is an essential tool used by computers around the world to determine local time so, for example, files and email messages can organized and time-stamped accurately. Astrolabe claimed that Olson and Eggert had infringed its copyright because the database relies, in part on information in an atlas to which Astrolabe owns the rights (the ACS International Atlas).

We’ve seen a lot of bogus lawsuits over the years, but this one is a doozy. Facts are not copyrightable, which means the developers were free to use the Atlas as a source. What is more, it appears that Astrolabe knew that the database contained only facts from the Atlas – its Complaint states repeatedly that the database developers copied “information” – i.e., facts. Indeed, the case would be laughable but for the dangerous consequences: Confronted by this legal threat, and lacking the resources to defend himself, Olson promptly took the database offline, to the shock and dismay of the many users and developers who relied upon it.

Just the Facts: Lawsuit Against TimeZone Database Deserves Sanctions


  1. Once again, EFF saves our (the internet community’s) ass.  Please consider supporting EFF with a donation!

  2. Aside from the obvious issue of non-copyrightable facts, did they really think the thousands of entities (vendors, programmers) who actively choose to use this timezone db to avoid communications chaos would let anything bad happen to it?

  3. Since “facts” are not copyrightable, does this mean that I can copy the Encylopaedia Britannica – which contains facts – and distribute it without fear of breaching copyright legislation?

    1. Yes, Chris, you can copy and distribute facts.  What you cannot co is to copy and distribute the format.   So if a book has an article on Einstein, with biographic information, you can copy that information but not reproduce the whole article.  That’s basic copyright law.
      (Chris, I know you’re intelligent – please think before you write.)

  4. US copyright law isn’t universal. In Australia and (I think) the UK copyright exists in things like phone directories, even though they are just collections of facts and even if the format and presentation is altered. Of course, in this case the plaintiffs were apparently seeking damages under US law, and I think it would be quite right for their lawyers to be sanctioned.

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