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.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 1:56am

    as far as i am aware, all countries that use the post code system actually encourages people to use it. what the hell is the point of therefore expecting, almost forcing, people to use a system, then make it harder to do so? usual bureaucratic bullshit and stupidity!!

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 2:20am

      Re:

      Because... because... it's OURS! And ours alone! Apparently that's reason enough these days. Like little children with their toys...

       

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      J-PF, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 8:50am

      FYI:

      as far as i am aware, all countries that use the post code system

      There are many, many different postal code "systems" throughout the world, not just one as you seem to think.

      The rather cleaver Canadian 6-digit alphanumeric "ANA-NAN" (A=alplabetic, N=numeric) system is unique to Canada and was developed in Canada. I have known the developers personally for decades. It came much later than the US pure-numeric system and many other countries' systems, improved on their deficiencies and is more granular and generally quite superior to most all (especially the pure-numeric one). It is also infinitely easier to remember an ANA-NAN code than a NNNNN (pure-numeric) system.

      As to whether the content and/or format is copyrighted or copyrightable, I have no firm opinion. I earned my living on the technical side of postal automation for years (in a former job), worked with their and others' postal code systems for years and never saw any sign of copyright that left a lasting impression. That's not to say that it is not copyrighted or copyrightable according to the often antiquated and/or silly (and only getting worse) "laws" of the land.

      I can tell you from experience that Canada Post Corporation can be collectively one ugly group of sob's to deal with, especially in corporate financial and corporate legal areas (the unions are very ugly, too, but they have little relevance in this topic).

      Canada Post Corporation does have some nice and reasonable and good people, but the general feel of them is typical big corporate arrogance. It's always best to count your fingers after shaking hands with one of them.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 3:03pm

        Re: FYI:

        Seems rather nitpicky, but I must.

        It is also infinitely easier to remember an ANA-NAN code than a NNNNN (pure-numeric) system.


        I don't see how that statement has any basis in fact. Surely if you can make that statement you can back it up. I certainly can never remember the ANA-NAN codings.

         

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    Devon Leslie, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 2:02am

    Nonsense

    Postal Codes are the official property of the People of Canada.
    Canada Post can shove their claim where the sun don't shine.
    What's next? Copyrighting street addresses?

     

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      varagix, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 2:59am

      Re: Nonsense

      Don't give people any ideas... They just might try it.

       

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        Vincent Clement (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 4:28am

        Re: Re: Nonsense

        Since municipalities assign addresses, perhaps they should sue Canada Post for copyright infringement. Something about tasting your own medicine.

         

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      TtfnJohn (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 8:59am

      Re: Nonsense

      As Canada Post is asserting copyright over the database, the one they sell to marketers, political parties and the like, in a sense they ARE asserting copyright over the street address. At least in it's relationship between the address and it's postal code.

      What is interesting is that as a Crown Corporation (government owned company) they could have tried to assert Crown prerogative the same version of copyright that Federal and Provincial legislation is published under. They may not be able to.

      One note, the database that Canada Post sells is two to three years out of date at any given moment so I'll bet the crowd sourced database is more accurate!

      Oh yeah, Canada Post can shove it where the sun don't shine! (Except on Wreck Beach in Vancouver!)

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 4:33am

    How very RIAA of them

    They can now sue people for violating copyright and disclosing their postal codes.

     

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    abc gum, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 4:43am

    The Canadian government is simply promoting the progress of science and useful arts by securing for a limited time the exclusive right to their writings and discoveries.

    It really is that simple, I'm shocked that many here are unwilling or unable to see this blatantly obvious factoid.

    You freetards will do anything to get your postal codes for free, think of the postal code creators for a change why dont ya.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 9:10am

      Re:

      Yeah - without copyright protections, there's no incentive for Canada Post to create any new postal codes, so where will we be five or ten years down the line when all the existing codes are old and expired? It'll be chaos! Down with this sort of thing!

       

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        Angry Puppy (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

        Re: Re: Copyright Protection - Make the Public Pay!

        True, if the public starts sharing postal code information with each other without paying then its value will be removed. A method has to be in place to guarantee that the creator (Canada Post) can be sure that when the copyright material is used it was paid for. I suggest users be forced into buying a coupon to affix to any materials using a Canada Post postal code. Placing the coupon (a small piece of paper printed with a unique design and having an adhesive backing) will designate a postal code on the same media (envelope/postcard) as being a paid for intellectual property and the coupon can be cancelled prior to the other party receiving the postal code by voiding the coupon with an ink mark.

        It's simple - so why hasn't Canada Post done this yet?

        The more I hear about bureaucrats the more I like my cave on Mars.

         

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      Sandi, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 7:38pm

      Re:

      Canada post is not a govt agency, it is a private company that works just like domino's pizza. The carriers don't even have to wear uniforms, they deliver the mail, if they feel like it, in street clothes.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 5:13am

    "and that Canada Post's complaint represents anti-competitive copyright misuse"

    But isn't that the (bad) point of copyright?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 5:16am

    I only have one thing to say to Canada.

    FUS RO DAH!

     

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    Bob, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 6:05am

    ...ahem

    FUS RO DAH™

     

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    CAPT CANADA, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 6:48am

    TEAR DOWN THE WALL

    so ya know what geocoder ought to say , if we cave then every personin canada using a postal code without paying canada post would be a criminal .....thus every gran ma , every parent every student every person that has mailed a letter used an online form ( AKA every damn one of us ) is breaking the law.

    THE CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS HAS A SECTION OF LAW DEALING WITH THIS VERY ASPECT AS ITS 30TH ANNIVERSARY I SUGGEST THE SMARTY PANTS PEEPS GO LOOK IT UP COME BACK AND POST THAT SECTION.

    Hint....it is about a law that everyone breaks can't be a law....

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 7:23am

    This is interesting and all, but what seems to be missing is what such data comprises, how is it useful, and to whom.

     

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    Eo Nomine, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 8:10am

    *sigh*

    While I'm not defending Canada Post here, it'd be helpful if people had their facts straight.

    Canada Post is NOT asserting copyright over postal codes. They're asserting copyright over the specific database that includes geographic coding of the postal codes that they sell access to. There's a pretty big difference.

    While databases can be copyrighted in Canada, it depends on whether they are sufficiently "original", which in Canada basically means whether their creation required an exercise in skill and judgement. This depends on the specifics of the database in question, but given the facts presented (and clear indication from both sides that the geocoding that makes this database of postal codes different from other databases requires effort) I think it's at least arguable that it is copyrightable.

    There is also the matter of independent creation. Canada Post asserts GeoCoder appropriated their database and is basically reselling it. GeoCoder denies this and claims it created its own database. Whether GeoCoder is telling the truth or not is a matter of fact that a court will have to determine. If GeoCoder is telling the truth, then there is no copying and no copyright claim. Frankly, I'm inclined to believe that this will dispose of the case, and the the court won't consider any other the other defences (which are novel).

     

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      Angry Puppy (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

      Re: Postal Code Database

      When I was an MIS department manager putting together the IT infrastructure of a Yellow Pages directory competitor I purchased the postal code database from Canada Post to build our database with. I guess 20 years ago they didn't think there was any competition to them and encouraging the use of postal codes saved them enormous sorting overheads. Now, instead of adapting and improving they are going the MPAA/RIAA route to squash anything seen as infringing on total control.

      This is why I get all my mail by email, pay online, and send or get everything else FedEx/UPS.

      P.S.- We got sued by Yellow pages on the grounds we infringed on the phone company's copyright on the numbers - the judge tossed it out.

       

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      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 5:53pm

      Re: They're asserting copyright over the specific database that includes geographic coding of the postal codes that they sell access to.

      Which is not what’s being copied here.

       

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    Spooky, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 8:46am

    Ahem, this is Canada, not the US. The correct term is Crown Corporation, not "state-owned". I take offense to that.

     

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      Leigh Beadon (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      Ahem, this is Canada, not the US. The correct term is Crown Corporation, not "state-owned". I take offense to that.

      The Crown is the head of state. State is a generic term referring to a sovereign government, not just an American thing. I didn't feel like filling the post with Canada-isms that I then might have to define (parenthetically). "State-owned" is a perfectly reasonable and accurate description of Canada Post.

       

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      The Groove Tiger (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 10:06am

      Re:

      State
      From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

      State commonly refers to either the present condition of a system or entity, or to a governed entity (such as a country) or sub-entity (such as a province or region).

      * State (polity), an organized political community, living under a government
      * Sovereign state, a sovereign political entity in public international law
      * Member state, a member of an international organization
      * Federated state, a political entity forming part of a federal sovereign state
      * Nation state, a state which coincides with a nation
      * U.S. state, there are 50 "States" in the United States of America
      * States and territories of Australia, of which there are eight

       

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      identicon
      Nick Name, Apr 18th, 2012 @ 11:10am

      Re: offense

      There is no right to not be offended. It offends me that you think there is one. The next time you feel offended, see your minister, priest, or rabbi rather than whining here.

       

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      Kane, Apr 19th, 2012 @ 3:09am

      Re:

      You do realize that's even worse. As opposed to the gov't owning the company, it is owned by the queen.

       

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    Ben, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 1:02pm

    Canada Post vs Geolytica - It's not about Copyright

    Here's a little post I wrote about this situation:

    http://benklass.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/canada-post-vs-geolytica-its-not-about-copyri ght/

    the tl;dr of it is that this is not in essence an issue of copyright, it's an issue of the survival of the public postal service. Canada Post may not have a claim to postal code copyright but nonetheless they rely on control of it in order to survive.

     

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    apauld (profile), Apr 17th, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    The thing they should be thinking about....

    The thing they should be thinking about is improving their piss poor service. I am considering having to us UPS, just for parcels to Canada.

     

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    Superstitious Black Cat, Apr 17th, 2012 @ 8:07pm

    Canada Post's Copyright - Lawsuits Pending

    If Canada Post gets to win this trial (hopefully not), then Google Map won't be able to provide us all with any map reference when we search a map solely by using a postal codes... It's totally ludicrous for Canada Post to try to restrict the use of the postal codes... If it becomes copyrighted, then we can assume that nobody will be allowed to use it for their mail for fear of being sued for copyright infringement! lol

     

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    CheMonro (profile), Apr 18th, 2012 @ 4:26am

    A Modest Proposal

    The registry of births, deaths and marriages is database created by the government, and as such the government may claim copyright over it. Then offer everyone a license to use their own individual names, for a small fee. Don't for heaven's sake call it a "name tax" or worse yet "poll tax!"

    And those who won't settle? Well...

     

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