Canada Post Claims Copyright Over Postal Codes, Meets Resistance
from the it's-precedent-setting-time dept
A few years ago, we wrote about the UK’s Royal Mail using a dubious copyright claim to bully a website into shutting down because it offered postal code data. In that case, the company chose not to fight the claim—and yet not long afterwards, UK officials decided to free up postal code data. Now, Michael Geist reports that a similar conflict is brewing in Canada—except this time, the company is fighting back:
Canada Post has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Geolytica, which operates GeoCoder.ca, a website that provides several geocoding services including free access to a crowdsourced compiled database of Canadian postal codes. Canada Post argues that it is the exclusive copyright holder of all Canadian postal codes and claims that GeoCoder appropriated the database and made unauthorized reproductions.
GeoCoder, which is being represented by CIPPIC, filed its statement of defence yesterday (I am on the CIPPIC Advisory Board but have not been involved in the case other than providing a referral to CIPPIC when contacted by GeoCoder’s founder). The defence explains how GeoCoder managed to compile a postal code database by using crowdsource techniques without any reliance on Canada Post’s database. The site created street address look-up service in 2004 with users often including a postal code within their query. The site retained the postal code information and gradually developed its own database with the postal codes (a system not unlike many marketers that similarly develop databases by compiling this information).
GeoCoder is putting forth a huge array of defenses. They point out that postal codes, as facts, should not be copyrightable, that Canada Post’s copyright claim over the database itself is questionable, that even if such copyright exists their crowdsourced database is not infringing, that free postal code data is in the public interest, and that Canada Post’s complaint represents anti-competitive copyright misuse. As such, this will prove to be a test case for a bunch of legal questions that have yet to be fully answered by Canadian courts.
Ultimately, attempting to control postal codes makes no sense. Making it harder for people to utilize them and build services around them just decimates their purpose, and speeds their path to irrelevance in a world with lots of much better and more accessible location data—not to mention a world where physical locations and permanent addresses matter less and less for many purposes. It also seems entirely unfair: since postal codes are required for all sorts of things, including most interactions with the government, how can Canada Post (a state-owned corporation) restrict access to them? All these arguments and more are likely to be raised, and could attract some interesting interveners to the case. This will definitely be a trial to watch.