by Glyn Moody

Filed Under:
canada, copyright, postal codes

canada post,

Canada Post Drops Ridiculous Copyright Lawsuit Over Crowdsourced Postal Code

from the only-took-four-years dept

Just over four years ago, Canada Post filed a copyright infringement suit against, which describes itself as follows: is a public web service providing both free and commercial geocoding services for North America: Canada and the USA. Geocoding is the process of computing the latitude and longitude of a location.
That may not sound like an obvious target for copyright infringement, since latitude and longitude are clearly just facts. But since 2004, GeoCoder has been carrying out an interesting exercise in crowdsourcing:
When you make a query to geocoder containing for example this information "1435 Prince of Wales, Ottawa, ON K2C 1N5", we then extract the postal code "K2C 1N5" and insert it into the database that you may download for free on this website.
That freely-available Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Database became so useful that NGOs and others started using it for serious purposes, much to the chagrin of Canada Post, which provided the "official" database of postal codes and was really rather keen to license it to you for a hefty sum. As Michael Geist wrote back in 2012, the case raised a number of important questions:
Key issues include whether there is any copyright in postal codes (GeoCoder argues that postal codes are facts that are not subject to copyright, noting to conclude otherwise would result in “copyright infringement on a massive, near-universal scale”), questions on whether Canada Post owns copyright in the database if there is copyright (Canada Post relies on a section in the Canada Post Corporation Act that does not appear to exist), and a denial that the crowdsourced version of the database -- independently created by GeoCoder -- infringes the copyright of the Canada Post database.
Fortunately, a more recent post from Geist explains that Canada Post has finally dropped its lawsuit. According to the GeoCoder page on the litigation, the terms are confidential, but the agreed statement is as follows:
Canada Post commenced court proceedings in 2012 against Geolytica Inc. for copyright infringement in relation to Geolytica Inc.'s Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset and related services offered on its website at The parties have now settled their dispute and Canada Post will discontinue the court proceedings. The postal codes returned by various geocoder interface APIs and downloadable on, are estimated via a crowdsourcing process. They are not licensed by from Canada Post, the entity responsible for assigning postal codes to street addresses. Geolytica continues to offer its products and services, using the postal code data it has collected via a crowdsourcing process which it created.
As Geist notes on his blog:
The settlement represents a big win for open data in Canada, as the lawsuit raised serious concerns about over-broad copyright claims given suggestions that Canada Post owned the copyright in all postal codes.
It's just a pity that it took four years for Canada Post to arrive at this commonsense decision.

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Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 4:51am

    Because if copyright didn't exist clearly nobody would send mail?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 6:26am

    Just think of the poor .... ummm
    who are we supposed to think about here ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2016 @ 6:50am

    Big win?

    We don't really know do we since the terms are confidential. For all we know, GeoCoder has to introduce errors into their data to make is less useful.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Skeeter, 10 Jun 2016 @ 7:25am

    Step back from the forest a bit

    Trying to figure out why ANYONE would think that GEO-Codes (ZIP codes, for us Americans) would be considered 'copyrighted'?! Seriously, postal codes can't be copyrighted, else you run into major issues of 'copyright violation' at the individual level, each and every time someone writes one on an envelope.

    As for 'a database', well, you can't have a postal code lookup function unless you have a postal code database with all assigned postal codes in it. This would have to be available to the public domain, so while you are in the post office lobby, trying to figure out what Aunt Gertrude's postal code is, you can, ahem, LOOK IT UP!

    This is nothing but profit-grabbing by a government department, mainly because 'they didn't think of it first'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    anonymous (Canadian) me, 10 Jun 2016 @ 8:20am

    Change in government, change in attitudes. Thank goodness.
    Speculation: The lawsuit may have reflected the previous govt's agenda. If the plan had been to privatize Canada Post,then postal codes would have been a valuable commodity, raising the asking price.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Max (profile), 10 Jun 2016 @ 12:57pm

    FUCK THEM. Also, there's OpenStreetMap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Jun 2016 @ 6:35pm

    Don't Violate Copyright

    From now on send all your post without post codes.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    LiteBlue, 20 Dec 2017 @ 4:30am

    Canada post is pretty cool. You can also use lite blue postal services for the same.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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