(Postal)Code Is Law?

Canada Post has begun legal proceedings against Geolytica Inc. (carrying on business as Geocoder.ca), a small Ottawa business that offers a mix of free and commercial geocoding services. The claim is that Geolytica has infringed Canada Post’s copyright in the postal code dataset by offering it for sale. (The full statement of claim is available here, as published on the defendant’s website.) Geolytica, by way of response, asserts on its website that:

Since 2004 we have crowdsourced* the generation of the “Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Database.” 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.

This allows you to look up a postal code (eg K2C 1N5) on www.geocoder.ca, or www.openstreetmap.org or a number of other sites that use geocoder.ca data and technology.

You can see what Geolytics offers as services on its main webpage. Geocoding is useful to those who build apps that are “geo-aware”, i.e. that enable a connection to be made between your geographical location and surrounding businesses, services, etc. A link between a postal code and an actual location is simply one example of such a useful connection.

On the assumption that Geolytics did indeed “reverse engineer” the postal code database through crowd sourcing, the question arises whether that would free it from Canada Post’s copyright. The plaintiff takes the position that it “enjoys the sole right to produce and reproduce the compilation, or any part thereof” [my emphasis].

Geolytics reported last week that it is now being represented by The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC). Canada Post is represented in this matter by Gowlings.

Comments

  1. David Collier-Brown

    What an amazing service! I’ll immediately mention it to a public-interest group who very much needs geographic information, but cannot afford huge capital outlays

    –dave