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Astrolabe vs Arthur Olson et al lawsuit
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Tom
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Posted: Sat Oct 08, 2011 11:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been trying to wrap my head around this all day and the more I read about it, the more ridiculous the lawsuit appears. At first I thought they were complaining someone swiped the computer code from them that they created to make the database work. They would have a point if they went to all the effort of writing up all that data for use in their software or for sale and others just incorporated it into their software.

But increasingly I'm getting the idea that they are claiming copyright on the data, i.e. the information about time zones. As one of the articles notes: no one can copyright facts or put another way, Astrolabe does not own time zone information. This is like an encyclopedia company suing another one because the second one named every state capital in the US and the first company did it first.

Things like this make the European system of "loser pays all" look really good.
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zoidsoft



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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 12:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tom wrote:
I've been trying to wrap my head around this all day and the more I read about it, the more ridiculous the lawsuit appears. At first I thought they were complaining someone swiped the computer code from them that they created to make the database work.


I'm quite certain that Olson never did this. There is a long history of updates and criticisms of various sources of data going all the way back to 1986 from hundreds of people all over the world:

http://mm.icann.org/pipermail/tz/

Which would probably make this the most scrutinized collection of public time zone data in the world.
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jventura



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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 9:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tom wrote:
Things like this make the European system of "loser pays all" look really good.


So that is why the "suing everyone" thing only happens in America! Razz
Yeap, here in Europe, to go to court is considered a last resort when both parties can't agree, and need someone to mediate.. The loser pays the fees, so nobody does it for sport or leisure!

Seriously though, I don't know it worked that way in US, so now it all makes sense to me.. Smile
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Tom
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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the US it is possible for the loser to pay everything, but it doesn't happen often. The appeals process is lengthy so the loser can keep on going. It is also possible and this is what Astrolabe might be counting on, to simply financially break the defendant so that he is forced by financial reasons to settle with the plaintiff even though he might have the stronger case. Going to court is very expensive here. Even if the plaintiff has a weak case the defendant is forced to defend himself. This doesn't mean every decision is unjust or the result of having more money, but that does happen.

The other reason everyone sues everyone over here is the "class action" lawsuit. If granted that status, the plaintiff sues on behalf of a class of people which can be huge. The defendant might settle rather than risk losing literally hundreds of millions. The class doesn't usually make very much, but the lawyers do. For example, someone sued an automobile tire company and was granted class action status. They eventually won the suit (I think it had to do with faulty tires). Since I purchased tires from the same company I was part of the suit. I had no problem with my tires.

The plaintiff prevailed and the class received a massive settlement. But there were so many people in the class, my share was $1.50. They lawyers however, got 1/3 of the total settlement. Guess who the system really benefits.

In this case that can't happen as Astrolabe is suing for copyright infringement so there is no class. Still the defendants must defend themselves and that is costly. It amazes me that the lawyers who favor national health care on the grounds that it is cheaper for everyone, would fight to the death if nationalized legal care were suggested (it never is), yet justice can easily cost from $500 to over $1000 an hour (more if you can afford a top light law office), and while you can throw in the towel in a civil suit, a wrongful criminal charge can be devastating even if you win.
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epurdue



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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 4:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Does Astrolabe have so much money that they can afford to "break" the defendant? Astrolabe might have some cash flow, but they are no Microsoft. Plus, I think this is rubbing a lot of astrologers (the ones who know about this) the wrong way. They are going to lose at least a few customers.
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zoidsoft



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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think they probably hope to settle out of court by letting Olson off the hook with no penalties if he agrees to privatize the history portion of the tz database (or parts of the history). That way Unix gets their servers back and everybody's iPhones won't break (because the encryption used has to match the correct time) and everyone connected to astrology will be forced to pay royalties to Astrolabe if they want tz history.
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jventura



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Posted: Sun Oct 09, 2011 11:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

zoidsoft wrote:
I think they probably hope to settle out of court by letting Olson off the hook with no penalties if he agrees to privatize the history portion of the tz database (or parts of the history). That way Unix gets their servers back and everybody's iPhones won't break (because the encryption used has to match the correct time) and everyone connected to astrology will be forced to pay royalties to Astrolabe if they want tz history.


They won't get very far with it! At least for Portugal, I can provide historical information obtained from the Lisbon Astronomical Observatory. Assuming all other 500 contributors live at least in 100 different countries, in no time the tz_database historical section is back.. And if it is not tz_data, another one will surge, no doubt!

Royalties to Astrolabe on tz history?! Read my previous sentence.. Confused

On my opinion those guys on Astrolabe are finished! Their site is totally unprofessional, really amateur, their app only runs on Windows machines, on the upcoming Windows 8 they will get behind.
Support for Mac OS X on their site is something like "install a virtual machine, buy a Windows licence, install Windows in the virtual machine, and then use our app". Yeah, 400$ for rubish app + 100$ windows licence. I am amazed where people spend their money at!
Finally, no Linux support, they will never be able to support Android tablets, iPads, etc. (they can't even do their website in conditions)..

I've seen this kind of things happen before: the company builds good software, they rule the market, they improve their product, the improvements are each time smaller, they don't create more innovative products, they start to get less new costumers, they start war patents, then they close..


João Ventura
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zoidsoft



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Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2011 2:27 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've already relocated twice for the sake of my business. I don't want to have to leave the USA to stay in business.
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jventura



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Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2011 8:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

zoidsoft wrote:
I've already relocated twice for the sake of my business. I don't want to have to leave the USA to stay in business.


Well, at least here on Europe we have no software patents, no courthouse "sports", and the weather is very nice in the southern countries. Today, weather in Lisbon is 31ºC/88ºF, and the water on the nearby beaches seems so good.. Smile
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jventura



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Posted: Mon Oct 10, 2011 10:15 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My Ubuntu Linux machine just updated automatically to tz_data 2011k, so the project is still moving on.. Cool
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zoidsoft



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Posted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 11:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

After some more research into this issue, I'm finding out that Astrolabe is attempting to get past the limitation of the fact that you can't copyright facts by saying that the ACS Atlas contains "interpretations" of time zone information. See section 5 of the following:

http://web.mit.edu/jhawk/tmp/tz/gov.uscourts.mad.139342.1.0.pdf

In other words they're guessing because they don't really know in many instances when the time changes occur.

If this is true, then:

1.) My claim that the ACS Atlas is inaccurate has been validated.
2.) This is starting to look like a case of copyright trolling.

However, I remember seeing in many comments that Arthur had many of his own "guesses" due to doubts when contrasting the ACS data to other sources which leads me to think that this case won't stand up even on the "interpretation" issue. This was the reason why I added the notes to the Terran Atlas as pop up hints when the data was in question because I was seeing this all over the place.

Also, because Olson has a 1970 zone horizon, the data itself has to be recorded differently. I don't see how this case has a chance.
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jventura



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Posted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 7:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

As many others, I've send an email to Astrolabe showing my disapointment with their act. They have answered, so I will write here their response:
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Immediately after filing a copyright violation lawsuit with the U.S District Court for Massachusetts against Mr. Arthur David Olson or Mr. Paul R. Eggert, Astrolabe Inc., received dozens of highly emotional emails, telephone calls, Facebook postings, tweets and inquiries. There have also been attempts to disable its website.

Astrolabe has now done a careful reading of these communications, as well as of the various industry publications that broke this story on October 7.

A typical news story appeared in TheRegister.co.uk under the Headline “Chaos feared after Unix time-zone database is nuked.” It continued, “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.” It went on to say that the Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Database, also known as the Olson database, is “the official reference Unix machines use to set clocks to local time” and that it “is used by countless websites and applications to reconcile time differences across the world.”

We can well understand the panic caused by such stories. However we believe that the highly emotional reactions that we received were based on an incomplete understanding of the facts. These facts are as follows:

1. Astrolabe’s lawsuit is in no way intended to interfere with compilation of current time-zone information maintained by Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, or any other persons. On the contrary, Astrolabe recognizes that compiling current time-change information is crucial for keeping computers properly up to date, as well as for many other useful purposes in today’s world. Astrolabe applauds the efforts of Olson, Eggert and the many other volunteers who maintain the database of current time changes.

2. The aim of Astrolabe’s suit is only to enforce copyright protection for materials regarding historical time data prior to 2000. This does not affect current time-setting on computers, and it has little or no effect on the Unix computing world.

Late in 2010 Astrolabe was disturbed to learn of the compilation effort of Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, which had been going on for a number of years. When asked to what extent they had relied upon the historical data published by ACS Publications, Mssrs. Olson and Eggert gave Astrolabe misleading answers. Further research by Astrolabe revealed that, contrary to the representations of Mssrs. Olson and Eggert, their database contained not just incidental or limited reproduction of the copyrighted material, but wholesale reproduction of the same, without lawful permission, contract or license.

3. The fact is that the historical time zone data compiled by ACS is protected by registered copyrights, first on its publication in book form as the American Atlas and the International Atlas, and later in electronic form as the ACS PC Atlas. The question of whether the material is “copyrightable”: has already been decided by the U.S. Copyright Office in the affirmative.

4. Why is the material considered copyrightable? Many hold the mistaken belief that all databases are mere compilations of fact, and are therefore not subject to copyright. However, compiling the ACS database went far beyond gathering official government data. In 20th-century America, particularly in the Midwest, time standards were a chaotic patchwork of not only state and local ordinances, but even of different time observances in the same jurisdiction. (For example, in some cases a hospital would record birth times using Standard Time while the surrounding city was on Daylight Time.)

Ferreting out the time standard that was actually being used to record a birth time involved a great deal of ingenuity. Besides researching “official” records, the publisher and authors consulted a myriad of other records using proprietary methods and, on some occasions, hiring local investigators. Where inconsistencies existed, the publisher and authors used their best judgments and expertise as to the actual time observed in specific locations, based on this historical research. In much the same way as Zagat Survey and Michelin Guide not only set forth the names, addresses and features of particular restaurants, but also various ratings, the Atlases comprise original historical time and location research, including judgments and expertise in determining actual historical time observed in any given location, fully meeting the definition of an “original work” as required under the Copyright Laws of the United States.

5. Why did the ACS compilers bother to undertake this effort? Prior to the widespread use of computers, few except astrologers had any interest in putting together detailed information about the time standards that were actually in use in different geographical areas at various times in history. As every astrologer knows, this information is vital. Without knowing the relation of the local time in use to time at the Greenwich meridian (the standard that is used for astronomical observations), it is impossible to calculate an accurate astrological chart.

Whatever others think of astrology, at the very least the world owes a debt to astrologers for creating this massive record of the time standards used in the past. This is not the place to make a detailed defense of astrology, but in answer to those whose outrage is increased by the fact that astrologers are the plaintiffs, we can only say that these detractors are uninformed. Uncritical recipients of the opinions of those who are higher in status than they are, they have obviously never experienced the power of astrology for themselves. Why astrology works is still a mystery, but as the prevailing paradigm morphs from 19th-century mechanism into one that has to embrace all the new things we are finding out about the universe, perhaps we will soon have a plausible explanation. Anyway, to those who know that astrology is bunkum and its practitioners are money-seeking parasites on society, all we can say is try to be a bit humbler and accept that the universe is far more mysterious than you imagine.

6. Why is Astrolabe suing to defend this copyright? Following the death of Neil Michelsen, the founder of Astro Computing Services, Astrolabe purchased the rights to the ACS PC Atlas, the electronic expression of the time-change database compiled by Michelsen, Thomas Shanks and Mark and Rique Pottenger. The data was also augmented by permission with the work of Doris Chase Doane and Francoise and Michel Gauquelin. In addition, the entire astrological community gave their time and energy to help correct this ongoing work, freely knowing that it was for commercial use.

With this purchase, Astrolabe inherited the obligation to pay royalties on the Atlas to Michelsen’s widow and to the other principal compilers, who are now at retirement-age. Astrolabe is defending this hard-earned intellectual property in order to continue paying royalties and recoup its own investment. Contrary to the accusations that it is trolling for dollars, it is not filing this suit in pursuit of vast amounts of cash. In the astrology world, there are no vast amounts of cash. The suit was filed in order to make Astrolabe’s concerns known to Mssrs. Olson and Eggert having not received a satisfactory reply to earlier phone calls and letters. Astrolabe has no wish to cripple the database on which Unix, Linux, Java and other computing depends.

Conclusion

In filing this suit, Astrolabe has touched the hot buttons on a number of highly emotional issues. One issue is the long-held right of people to receive money for their labors vs. the newer values of open sourcing, wiki and the other forms of the free information exchange that have made the internet so great. Another is the clash of paradigms between a mechanistic one unfriendly to astrology and a newer (and older) one that recognizes that the universe is far more mysterious than we thought. It is painful to be caught in these cross-currents, but we hope that through this suit we will not only gain a just decision, but also promote greater clarity on these important issues.
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Philip Graves



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Posted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Personally, I purchased physical copies (hardcovers with dustjackets) of both 'The American Atlas' and 'The International Atlas' by Thomas Shanks, as published by ACS in the 1980s, second-hand, a couple of years ago, little suspecting that such a storm could be brewing in the background.

In the process of those recent second-hand purchases, unfortunately none of the compilers received a cent in royalties, yet I now have full access to the historical data, entirely legitimately. There are many other second-hand copies of both books on the market still today at low prices, including similar ones to those I bought, hardbound and in fine condition.

Though I have no knowledge of the exact use that has been made of the data by Olson & co., on a theoretical level at least I can understand Gary Christen's (and Astrolabe's) point here. Whether or not there are inaccuracies in the data compiled by Shanks et al,, copying it directly from their work for a database which then had secondary commercial applications could be construed as a use of copyrighted material on which royalties were therefore owed to those who had put the work into the original research. If, however, Olson & co. were to compile their database independently from primary sources, it would be a different story. Astrolabe might have a case if they can prove that the Shanks et al. data was uncritically copied without independent verification for a database that was then commercially exploited by third parties.
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zoidsoft



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Posted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 10:04 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

jventura wrote:
4. ...

Ferreting out the time standard that was actually being used to record a birth time involved a great deal of ingenuity. Besides researching “official” records, the publisher and authors consulted a myriad of other records using proprietary methods and, on some occasions, hiring local investigators. Where inconsistencies existed, the publisher and authors used their best judgments and expertise as to the actual time observed in specific locations, based on this historical research. In much the same way as Zagat Survey and Michelin Guide not only set forth the names, addresses and features of particular restaurants, but also various ratings, the Atlases comprise original historical time and location research, including judgments and expertise in determining actual historical time observed in any given location, fully meeting the definition of an “original work” as required under the Copyright Laws of the United States.


This attempts to say that the Olson standard is a "cheap imitation" which is not the case. Olson found many problems with the ACS Atlas and made corrections in the process. This is just a fancy way of saying that ACS guessed the times of transition but at the same time trying to make it look like their method will "mystically" derive the correct time for chart calculation through their proprietary method as if they are the high priesthood for divining times of transition. This is ridiculous and it reads like a BS commercial. I'm not buying it. You either have the recorded fact or you don't and the transition time "guessed" is most likely going to be wrong. Steve Ferguson found 3200 errors going in alphabetical order up to Connecticut doing his own research and confirmed the sloppiness of the ACS data.

Quote:
(For example, in some cases a hospital would record birth times using Standard Time while the surrounding city was on Daylight Time._


This is a red herring. The Olson database never associates a time with a location other than to use a city to represent a single time standard for an entire region. Because the Olson database has a 1970 horizon, these regions by necessity are very different than the ACS derived regions whatever they may be because of that horizon. Hospitals are not in the Olson database and there is no direct linkage between a location and the time. All the Olson database does is provide a label and a time standard for that label.

Astrolabe needs to grow up and recognize that there are other time zone researchers out there and many of them are more qualified than the ACS people were.
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jventura



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Posted: Wed Oct 12, 2011 11:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Philip Graves wrote:
Though I have no knowledge of the exact use that has been made of the data by Olson & co., on a theoretical level at least I can understand Gary Christen's (and Astrolabe's) point here. Whether or not there are inaccuracies in the data compiled by Shanks et al,, copying it directly from their work for a database which then had secondary commercial applications could be construed as a use of copyrighted material on which royalties were therefore owed to those who had put the work into the original research. If, however, Olson & co. were to compile their database independently from primary sources, it would be a different story. Astrolabe might have a case if they can prove that the Shanks et al. data was uncritically copied without independent verification for a database that was then commercially exploited by third parties.


Hi Philip,

about the copyright of crude data (read facts), there is a specific case where it was established that information without a minimum of original creativity can't be copyrighted. In http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feist_v._Rural , the case was about a phone book company which copied entirely the work of the other. The decision was that facts aren't copyrightable, so it was legal to copy the phone listing in its entirity. But one thing is the list of numbers, the other is the physical book. Only the physical book was copyrighted!

Regarding this case, even if Olson copied entirely the ACS atlas, it would be legal, because again, facts aren't copyrightable. You may say that the ACS people were original in their investigation, and so, comply with the "minimum of original creativity" said above. Well, they could have been, but that has nothing to do with the facts gathered. Even more, the ACS data on Olson database was then verified and in many cases, it had to be changed..

Facts belongs to the culture/science of the humanity. Imagine if someone copyrighted the fact that PI=3.1415(...). Nobody would be able to use PI for calculations, would we? And to get PI, that someone had to be creative, he have had to measure several perimeters, radius, compare the information, etc..

Edit: On http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweat_of_the_brow you can read: Under the Feist ruling in the US, mere collections of facts are considered unoriginal and thus not protected by copyright, no matter how much work went into collating them. The arrangement and presentation of a collection may be original, but not if it is "simple and obvious" such as a list in alphabetical or chronological order.
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