Time keeps on ticking, ticking, ticking, into the future

icannWell yes, Steve Miller Band felt time was slippin’ into the future, but now ICANN will ensure that the public domain Time Zone and Daylight Saving Time Database (sometimes previously referred to as the Olson database) continues to universally tick, tick, tick into the future.

A number of volunteers including U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) employee, David Olson, had maintained the database for the past three decades. On Sept. 30, astrology software company Astrolabe filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Olson and another volunteer, at the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

It is Astrolab’s claim that some of the historical time zone information within the database drew from their original software and the company was seeking royalties in compensation. NIH, which had hosted TZ Database on its servers, removed the list as soon as the suit was filed. For his part Olson, who founded the database, didn’t have the resources to fight the lawsuit alone, released a statement dated October 6: “A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston; I’m a defendant; the case involves the time zone database.” And, therefore, “the ftp server at elsie.nci.nih.gov has been shut down.”

This ftp sever, better known in the networking, Unix & Linux programming community as the Olson database or the Time Zone database, was the official reference that all Linux and Unix systems use to set clocks from ‘universal time’, or what has historically been referred to as Greenwich Mean Time, to the desired local time. Therefore, if you’ve been on the web you’ve accessed this information and very likely depended on it for your own site.

While avoiding any mention of the lawsuit that prompted this, Akram Atallah, ICANN’s Chief Operating Officer explained that ICANN was taking it over because, “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.” They went on to say that they would henceforth handle any legal matters that arise around the database.

According to a statement by Russ Housely, chairman of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) “The time zone database is used by a large number of commercial operating systems and software applications. Incorrect time zone information will impact many everyday activities, including meeting and conference call coordination, airplane & train schedules, physical package delivery notices, and astronomical observatories.”

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