ICANN Takes Over Management of Important Time Zone Database

By Ed Silverstein October 18, 2011

The influential Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has taken over the management of a key Internet time zone database.

Without the database – which is used by several computer systems – the operating systems would only display Greenwich Mean Time, or the time in London, according to media reports. The Time Zone Database lets users set computer clocks by selecting a city from a menu. The database also “maps locations to time zones,” The Inquirer explains. Unix, Linux, Java and Oracle are among the systems that use the database.

Until recently, the database was overseen by Arthur David Olson of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, as well as other volunteers. But Olson plans to retire.

In addition, the database recently was taken offline after Astrolabe Inc. filed a federal lawsuit, reports The Inquirer. Astrolabe alleges its ACS Atlas product is used in database operations, and it wants the volunteers to pay royalties. The lawsuit also claims there was copyright infringement, according to a report from The Associated Press. Astrolabe named Olson and Paul Eggert, another volunteer, in the lawsuit. But the defendants in the case claim the data are in the “public domain” and not subject to copyright laws, The AP said.

Meanwhile, Kim Davies, a manager at ICANN, told USA Today they “are aware of the lawsuit ... We believe it's important to continue the operation of the database. We'll deal with any legal matters as they arise," according to The Inquirer.

In its analysis of the lawsuit, The Inquirer notes that “It … won't be entirely lost on Astrolabe that ICANN has sufficient resources to go to court in order to preserve general availability of timezone data, so it seems possible that an out of court settlement eventually might be reached to resolve the issue.”

ICANN assumed management of the database on Friday. It was removed from NIH's server on Oct. 6, according to The AP.

"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 Chief Operating Officer Akram Atallah commented in a press release.

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

ICANN was formed in 1998. A non-profit corporation, it has participants worldwide. ICANN is in charge of the Internet's address system, adds TechZone360.


Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

TechZone360 Contributor

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