This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.
People who support a reasonable balance between encouraging creation of artistic works by allowing creators to profit from them, and the interests of wider society in benefiting from the free availability of creative works (or even of facts) aren’t having a good day.
Larrikin vs Australian Music
Skud has covered this over at Save Aussie Music:
Today EMI Australia lost their High Court appeal against Larrikin Music in the Kookaburra/Land Down Under case…
Leaving aside the problems with the copyright system, let’s just take a moment to look at Larrikin, the folk music label that holds the rights to “Kookaburra”. Larrikin was founded in 1974 by Warren Fahey, and sold to Festival Records in 1995. Festival, owned by Murdoch, was shut down and its assets sold to Warner Music Australia in 2005, for a mere $12 million.
Larrikin was home to a number of Australian artists, among them Kev Carmody, Eric Bogle, and Redgum
Kev Carmody, one of Australia’s foremost indigenous musicians, released four albums on Larrikin and Festival between 1988 and 1995, none of which are available on iTunes nor readily available as CDs (based on a search of online retailers). …
Warner bought Larrikin Records’ assets — two decades of Australian music — not because they want to share the music with the public, but to bolster their intellectual property portfolio, in the hope that one day they’ll be able to sue someone for using a riff or a line of lyrics that sounds somewhat like something Redgum or Kev Carmody once wrote. They do this at the expense of Australian music, history, and culture.
Lauredhel covered the case earlier at Hoyden too, focussing on whether the claim of infringement stands up to a legal layperson’s listen test and musical analysis: You better run, you better take cover.
Astrologers versus software creators and users
Have you ever selected your timezone from a list which lists them like this: “Australia/Sydney”, “Europe/London”? Then you’ve used the zoneinfo database.
Timezones are complicated. You can’t work out what timezone someone is in based purely on their longitude, have a look at this map to see why. Timezones are highly dependent on political boundaries. On top of that, daylight savings transitions are all over the map (as it were). Some countries transition in an unpredictable fashion set by their legislature each year. Sometimes a sufficiently large event (such as the Sydney Olympics in 2000) causes a local daylight savings transition to happen earlier or later than that government’s usually predictable algorithm.
Therefore computer programs rely heavily on having a giant lookup table of timezones and daylight saving transitions. Data is needed both for the present, so that your clock can be updated, and for the past, so that the time of events ranging from blog entries to bank transactions can be correctly reported.
A great deal of software, including almost all open source software, relies on the freely available database variously called the tz database, the zoneinfo database or the Olson database.
Arthur David Olson (the “Olson” in “Olson database”) announced yesterday:
A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston; I’m a defendant; the case involves the time zone database.
The ftp server at elsie.nci.nih.gov has been shut down.
The mailing list will be shut down after this message.
The basis of the suit is that the zoneinfo database credits The American Atlas as a source of data, and The American Atlas has been purchased by astrology company Astrolabe Inc, who assert that the use of the data is an infringement of their copyright. Whether this is true is apparently highly arguable (in the US it seems to hinge on whether it’s a list of facts, which aren’t copyrightable) but in the meantime the central distribution point of the data is gone. And it could be a long meantime.
Now, people still have copies of the database (if you run Linux you probably do yourself). However, the source of updates has been removed, which means it will be out of date within a few weeks, and the community that created the updates has been fractured. Various people are doing various things, including a defence fund, a fork of the mailing list, and discussions about re-creating or resurrecting the data in other places. All a great waste of many creative people’s time and money, gain to society from Astrolabe’s action yet to be shown.
- The Daily Parker: Time zone database shut down
- Stephen Colebourne: Time-zone database down
- Zoidiasoft Tech describes the possible source of the dispute, or at least how Astrolabe found out about zoneinfo
Update (Oct 17): ICANN takes over zoneinfo database
On 14th October the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages key Internet resources (notably, the global pool of IPv4 and IPv6 addresses) on behalf of the US government, put out a press release (PDF) announcing that they were taking over the zoneinfo database:
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) today took over operation of an Internet Time Zone Database that is used by a number of major computer systems.
ICANN agreed to manage the database after receiving a request from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).
The database contains time zone code and data that computer programs and operating systems such as Unix, Linux, Java, and Oracle rely on to determine the correct time for a given location. Modifications to the database occur frequently throughout the year…
“The Time Zone Database provides an essential service on the Internet and keeping it operational falls within ICANN’s mission of maintaining a stable and dependable Internet,” said Akram Atallah, ICANN’s Chief Operating Officer.
I wonder if ICANN’s not-for-profit status is useful here. Just as Project Gutenberg can make United States public domain texts available globally, even though texts published prior to 1923 are not public domain world-wide, ICANN may present a less tempting target for lawsuits than other possible homes for the zoneinfo database.