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ICANN steps in front of astrology lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2011, 08:40:14 (UTC), Domain Tech

ICANN has agreed to take over a critical online time zone database, after its original operators were sued for copyright infringement by an astrology software company.

The organization said last night that it will start to manage the Internet Time Zone Database, following the retirement of Arthur David Olson, who has managed it for nearly 30 years at the US National Institutes of Health.

“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,” ICANN COO Akram Atallah said.

While it’s possible that ICANN will face criticism for this apparent case of “mission creep”, the move could actually be pretty good news for new top-level domains applicants.

The tz database is used by countless applications and platforms. It’s baked into Java, PHP, Perl, Python, .NET, PostgreSQL and BSD-derived operating systems including Mac OS X.

If ICANN is able to leverage those relationships, it may be able to increase adoption of its Universal Acceptance of TLDs project, an authoritative database of all live TLDs.

This could help new gTLDs, primarily those longer than three characters, have a smoother ride in terms of compatibility with internet software.

But the real reason for the handover to ICANN at this time appears to be the fact that Olson was sued at the end of September by Astrolabe, a Massachusetts-based provider of astrology software.

Astrolabe claims (pdf) it has copyright on some facts about historical time zone information, and has sued Olson for an injunction and damages

The lawsuit prompted the removal of the FTP site where the database is hosted, and oodles of bad karma for Astrolabe after the suit was reported in The Register.

So has ICANN just risked having its name added to the lawsuit in order to ensure the ongoing stability of the time zone database? Is it taking one for the team? It certainly appears so.

According to Astrolabe’s latest observations:

Conditions are confused and uncertain. Feelings run high. Perceptions are altered, leading to misunderstandings. Imagination, escapism, and gullibility are factors to contend with.

Indeed.

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