The Olson TZ (Time Zone) Database and Copyright…

They must have misread their stars! Astrolabe, Inc., who sells astrology software, acquired the copyright to “The American Atlas” by Thomas G. Shanks and then naively decided to sue the people who maintain the standard time zone database used in software worldwide. The Daily Parker promptly provided a great write-up in October, 2011 where David asked five questions:

  1. Is data about when time zone rules changed throughout history protected under copyright?
  2. If so, who owns it?
  3. If someone owns it, is the Olson database a derivative work under copyright law?
  4. If the Olson database does, in fact, derive from the work in question, is it a fair use?
  5. Just how stupid are these astrologists, anyway?

It’s useful to recall that government laws control time zone rules throughout the world. In the United States where the suit was filed, laws cannot be copyrighted nor can facts. That means the answer to question 1 is no, because it asks about facts (referred to as data). The actual text of the law(s) controlling time zone rules might have been copyrighted by the government that wrote them, but the facts themselves cannot be copyrighted. Since the answer to question 1 is no, the rest of the questions are rendered moot. Q.E.D.

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