Global time zone database closed following legal threat

Developer calls on industry leaders to sort it out

The tz database, the key source of time zone information for most the computing world, has been shut down following allegations of copyright infringement.

The shutdown was triggered by a complaint filed in Boston, Massachusetts, by Astrolabe Inc on 30 September against two private individuals, Arthur David Olson and Paul R Eggert, who have maintained the database since the mid-1980s.

The complaint centres around the use of historical time zone data from The American Atlas by Thomas G Shanks and The International Atlas by Shanks and Rique Pottenger.

There is no complaint against the current information in the tz database. However in a brief message Olsen said that the database's ftp server at elsie.nci.nih.gov has been shut down, along with the project's mailing list.

Correct time zone information is needed to ensure that audit logs are accurately recording events, and that automated processes happen at the right time.

"Right now the global situation is that there is no longer a single central location for time-zone information for computing," wrote British Java developer Stephen Colebourne. "This really is the key tool used by everyone to tell the right time globally."

Also known as the zoneinfo database and the Olson database, tz is used for time zone conversion calculations by all BSD-derived systems including OS X, most Linux distributions, Solaris, Oracle, the Java Runtime Environment (JRE), PHP, various modules for Perl and Python, the .NET Framework module zoneinfo and others.

One notable exception is Microsoft's software, which uses the company's own proprietary time zone database.

Without a trusted source of time zone data, every software project could be forced to keep track of the dozens of time zone changes globally each year.

"Governments change their time zones all the time, and the decisions are frequently very political," Colebourne wrote. They can also happen at short notice.

In 2006, for example, the Victorian government introduced a one-off delay to the end of daylight saving time to prevent "confusion" on the final day of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. New South Wales followed suit, to prevent the states being out of step.

But the decisions were made at such short notice that it was too late for most computer's time zone information to be updated.

"This data is so key to the world at this point that it needs to be formalised and run by a group with more legal and financial backing," Colebourne wrote.

"I hereby call on the industry leaders to help sort this out — IBM, Oracle, Apple, Google, RedHat I'm looking at you."


 

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