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Astrolabe announces change in business: was astrology, now copyright trolling

Thu 6 Oct 2011 by mskala Tags used: , ,

The Unix time-zone database - necessary to the operation of Linux-based computers and many other systems around the world as well - has been withdrawn from distribution because of a lawsuit filed by Astrolabe Inc. I'm really saddened to hear of this, because I liked Astrolabe. They've been in the business of selling astrological software for a long time, and they make many popular products, some of which I have used and recommended. But now I can't give them any more money nor can I recommend that others do so, because they have attacked the basic infrastructure of global computing. The word "terrorism" is so overused now as to be practically worthless, but attacks on infrastructure are often mentioned when people try to define it. Shame on you, Astrolabe.

It appears that what's going on is that one of the many data sources from which the time zone database was compiled was a book by Thomas G. Shanks called The American Atlas, which chronicled historical time zone changes in the USA. (There may also be a couple of other closely related books involved.) Astrolabe has a deal with the publishers of that book to market some computer software containing the same data. Their claim is that because the Unix time zone database also contains data from the book, therefore the Unix time zone database infringes the copyrights of their software. That's not how database copyright works even in jurisdictions that have database copyright at all, but just because I think their legal case is bullshit doesn't stop them from filing it.

I've heard claims that this is an example of why the DMCA must die. I agree that the DMCA must die, but I don't think this case has much to do with that. The DMCA isn't mentioned in the complaint; a "takedown notice" (probably a DMCA takedown notice) is mentioned in the complaint, but the complaint also alleges that the "takedown notice" was ignored, so it can't really be said that the DMCA was all that relevant. This is certainly an example of why database copyright must die, though. Facts aren't copyrightable; but database copyright allows unethical parties - apparently including Astrolabe - to make sneaky claims of copyright on facts in practice even though facts aren't copyrightable in theory.

The complaint is posted on Scribd, and I refuse to link to Scribd because of their privacy invasions. Below, I've reproduced the complaint as plain text.

{Beginning of complaint.  Reproduced for the information of anyone
interested; NO ENDORSEMENT BY ME of this complaint should be inferred. 
Notes in curly braces are mine; every effort has been made for all other
content to be accurately representative of what was posted on Scribd.}
 
                           UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

                        FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

                                                               DOCKET NO.
********************************
ASTROLABE, INC.,               *
                               *
          Plaintiff,           *
                               *
     v.                        *
                               *
ARTHUR DAVID OLSON,            *
and PAUL EGGERT,               *
                               *
          Defendants.          *
********************************
    COMPLAINT, REQUEST FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF, RESTRAINING ORDER,
                         DAMAGES AND TRIAL BY JURY

                                Parties

1.   Plaintiff, Astrolabe, Inc. [hereinafter “Astrolabe”], is a for-profit
     Massachusetts corporation with a principal place of business at 350 Underpass
     Road, P.O. Box 1750, Brewster, Barnstable County, Commonwealth of
     Massachusetts 02631, and is engaged in the business of publication, marketing
     and sale, including computer software publications and/or programs
     pertaining to the field of astrology.

2.   Defendant, Arthur David Olson [hereinafter “Olson”], is an individual with a
     last and usual residence at 7406 Hancock Avenue, #2, Takoma Park,
     Maryland 20912, and with a usual an ordinary place of business as a computer
     specialist at the Laboratory of Experimental Carcinogenesis, Building 37,
     Room 4146A, National Cancer Institute, National Institute of Health, 37
     Convent Drive, MSC 4262, Bethesda, Maryland 20892.

3.   Defendant, Paul R. Eggert [hereinafter “Eggert”], is an individual with a last
     and usual residence in the State of California, who is engaged in the business
     of computer services and programming, and employed as a lecturer with the
     University of California, Los Angeles, Computer Science Department, with a
     principal business address of: UCLA Computer Science, Box 951596,
     4532JBH, Los Angeles, Calfiornia 90095-1596

{page 2}
 
                                  Jurisdiction

4.   Pursuant to a written agreement, Astrolabe is the copyright assignee of the
     copyright owner, of certain copyright-protected computer software programs
     and information contained therein, pursuant to the Copyright Protection Act,
     17 U.S.C. Section 101, et seq., known as the “ACS Atlas,” consisting of both
     the “ACS International Atlas,” and the “ACS American Atlas,” in the form of 
     computer software program(s) and/or data bases, and in the form of electronic
     output and future electronic media from said programs [hereinafter “the Works”].

5.   These atlases set forth interpretations of historical time zone information
     pertaining to innumerable locations throughout the world, based upon the
     compilation of historical research and documentation regarding applicable
     time zones officially and/or in actuality in effect, given the actual latitude and
     longitudes of specific locations throughout the world.

6.   Upon information and belief, defendants Olson and Eggert have unlawfully
     reproduced the Works, in violation of the Copyright Protection Act, without
     proper permission and/or authorization from the copyright holder, and without
     paying royalties due and payable to the copyright holder and/or its assignee,
     Astrolabe, in computer software format.

7.   Plaintiff, Astrolabe publishes, markets and sells its ACS Atlas programs (the
     Works) for commercial profit purposes to, inter alia, those interested and/or
     engaged in the business and field of astrology seeking to determine the
     historical time at any given time in any particular location, world-wide.

8.   In connection with its rights to reproduce the Works, plaintiff Astrolabe is
     contractually obligated to pay royalties to the owner/assignor of the copyright
     and the authors of the same.

                                  Facts

9.   Defendant Olson’s unauthorized reproduction of the Works have {sic} been
     published at ftp://elsie.nci.nih.gov/tzarchive.qz, where the references to
     historic international time zone data is replete with references to the fact that
     the source for this information is, indeed, the ACS Atlas.

10.  In connection with his unlawful publication of some and/or any portion of the
     Works, defendant Olson has wrongly and unlawfully asserted that this
     information and/or data is “in the public domain,” in violation of the
     protections afforded by the federal copyright laws.

11.  Defendant Eggert’s unauthorized reproduction of the Works have {sic} been
     published at http://cs.ucla.edu/~eggert/tz/tz-link.htm
     http://cs.ucla.edu/~eggert/tz/tz-art.htm, where the references to historic

{page 3}
 
     international time zone data is replete with references to the fact that the
     source for this information is, indeed, the ACS Atlas.

12.  In connection with his unlawful publication of some and/or any portion of the
     Works, defendant Eggert has wrongly and unlawfully asserted that this
     information and/or data is “in the public domain,” in violation of the
     protections afforded by the federal copyright laws.

13.  On or about May 12, 2011, Astrolabe sent a “takedown notice” to both the
     National Institute of Health [hereinafter “NIH”], and the University of
     California Los Angeles hereinafter “UCLA”], which have failed and/or
     refused to remove the unauthorized publication and copying of the Works.
     See Exhibit 1, May 12, 2011, Letter to NIH, and Exhibit 2, May 12, 2011,
     Letter to UCLA.

14.  Despite having received copies of the letters attached hereto as Exhibits 1 and
     2, defendants Olson and Eggert continue to unlawfully publish the Works,
     without permission and/or authorization to do so.

                                      Count I

                           Copyright Violation -- Olson

15.  Plaintiff repeats and reasserts the matters set forth above, as if fully set forth
     herein, incorporating the same herein by reference, and further states:

16.  In publishing any and/or all of the Works as set forth above, defendant Olson
     has and does so in violation of the federal copyright protection laws of the
     United States, to the detriment of plaintiff, Astrolabe.

17.  Defendant Olson is well aware that the information and/or data wrongfully
     and unlawfully published by him violates the plaintiff’s copyright in the
     Works.

18.  As a direct and proximate cause {sic} of defendant Olson’s unlawful and wrongful
     publication of some and/or any portion of the Works, he has unlawfully
     deprived plaintiff of income it would have otherwise derived from sales of the
     same, and has wrongfully and unlawfully asserted that the information and/or
     date {sic} taken from the Works is in the “public domain.”


    WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests that this Honorable Court enter judgment in its
favor, and against the defendant Olson, and enter the following orders and/or judgments
of the Court:

      A.  Issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting defendant Olson from
          unlawfully publishing any and/or some part of the Works;

{page 4}
 
      B.  Issue a permanent injunction prohibiting defendant Olson from
          unlawfully publishing any and/or some part of the Works;

      C.  Award plaintiff damages and such other amounts, {sic - missing "as..."} including interest,
          attorney’s fees and costs, for the unlawful and wrongful use of the Works.

      D.  Such other orders and/or relief {sic - missing "as"} the Court deems just, reasonable and
          appropriate.

                                    Count II

                          Copyright Violation -- Eggert 

19.  Plaintiff repeats and reasserts the matters set forth above, as if fully set forth
     herein, incorporating the same herein by reference, and further states:

20.  In publishing any and/or all of the Works as set forth above, defendant Eggert
     has and does so in violation of the federal copyright protection laws of the
     United States, to the detriment of plaintiff, Astrolabe.

21.  Defendant Eggert is well aware that the information and/or data wrongfully
     and unlawfully published by him violates the plaintiff’s copyright in the
     Works.

22.  As a direct and proximate cause {sic} of defendant Eggert’s unlawful and wrongful
     publication of some and/or any portion of the Works, he has unlawfully
     deprived plaintiff of income it would have otherwise derived from sales of the
     same, and has wrongfully and unlawfully asserted that the information and/or
     date {sic} taken from the Works is in the “public domain.”

    WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests that this Honorable Court enter judgment in its
favor, and against the defendant Eggert, and enter the following orders and/or judgments
of the Court:

      A.  Issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting defendant Eggert from
          unlawfully publishing any and/or some part of the Works;

      B.  Issue a permanent injunction prohibiting defendant Eggert from
          unlawfully publishing any and/or some part of the Works;

      C.  Award plaintiff damages and such other amounts, {sic - missing "as..."} including interest,
          attorney’s fees and costs, for the unlawful and wrongful use of the Works.

{page 5}
 
      D.  Such other orders and/or relief {sic - missing "as"} the Court deems just, reasonable and
          appropriate.

                                       Plaintiff,

                                       ASTROLABE, INC.

                                       by its attorney,

                                        /s/ Julie C. Molloy
                                       Julie C. Molloy          BBO#555176
                                       379 Route 6A
                                       East Sandwich MA 02537
                                       Tel: (508) 833-3707
                                       jcourtmolloy@gmail.com


Dated: September 30, 2011

{End of complaint.  Reproduced for the information of anyone
interested; NO ENDORSEMENT BY ME of this complaint should be inferred.}

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