Friday, April 26, 2013
Canada Post claims to own Canadian postal codes and the phrase “postal code” in English and French
Canada Post, the Crown corporation responsible for carrying the nation’s mail, became the brunt of jokes this week for the copyright claims it has made--not only on Canada's postal codes, but also the phrases "postal code" in English and "code postale" in French (Canada’s two official languages).
In spring 2012, Canada Post launched a lawsuit against the Internet company Geolytica for providing a free database of Canadian postal codes on line. Geolytica runs the geocoding site GeoCoder.ca, which turns street addresses into geographic co-ordinates so they can be mapped.
Although postal and zip-code data is available for free to companies in the U.K. and the U.S.A., Canada Post charges companies between $5,500 and $50,500 a year for access to its copyrighted postal-code database. Canada Post’s original lawsuit against Geolytica is based on the claim that Canada Post loses major revenue when people distribute its postal-code information for free. Geolytica’s counterclaim is that it never stole Canada Post's information, but rather since 2004 has been compiling its own database of postal codes by crowdsourcing the information from on-line users who provided it voluntarily.
The latest in the year-old lawsuit is that on March 9 Canada Post filed an updated statement of claim alleging that Geolytica and other sites owned by Ervin Ruci violate Canada Post’s trademark on the terms "postal code" and "code postale."
The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic is representing Geolytica pro-bono, because for one reason the high cost of using Canada Post’s data also limits innovation opportunities for developers who want to incorporate the data into geo-location software products. A court date has not been set yet.
Meanwhile Treasury Board Secretariat president Tony Clement continues to tout the Canadian federal government’s “open data initiative,” which aims to make government-controlled information from hundreds of sources (including safety recalls, food-inspection reports, business licences, and Statistics Canada research) accessible to Canadians.
QMI Agency reports: "’Other than filling my mailbox with junk mail, misusing the legal system to pursue absurd claims appears to be the way those overpaid pencil sharpeners see as the way out of the woods,’" Ruci wrote on his blog, referring to a recent Conference Board of Canada report predicting Canada Post's annual operating loss will reach $1 billion by 2020."
The Ottawa Citizen writes: “Ervin Ruci, founder of Geocoder.ca, said the hassle Canada Post has presented over the collection and use of postal code data should act as a warning to any business trying to using government-created data for financial gain. He pointed to several other businesses, including Canadian Tire and Walmart, that ask for postal code information in order to present customers with a local store’s sale flyer.”
A Citizen reader comments in a letter to the editor:
“Canada Post has forgotten that they exist for the benefit of Canadians not for the benefit of the Canada Post corporation. Their recent desire to keep the words ‘postal code’ for themselves is ridiculous.
“It is equivalent to the City of Ottawa saying that street addresses belong to them so that we would not be able to say ‘24 Sussex Drive’ without permission.
“Instead, we'd have to say something like ‘the big house on the river where [Canadian Prime Minister] Stephen Harper lives.’”