Are postal codes copyrighted material? Does Canada Post own the copyright to this data?
If you are a marketer or a business that collects, curates and uses postal codes, the recent copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Canada Post against Geolytica, which operates GeoCoder.ca, should be of interest to you.
While the GeoCoder lawsuit makes for fascinating crowdsorucing discussion, the legal issues around it should be of interest to many businesses, according to Michael Geist, University of Ottawa Internet law professor and privacy advocate.
“Marketers that have independently developed and marketed their own databases that include postal code information, could face similar copyright claims by Canada Post and may need to support GeoCoder,” Geist wrote in a recent blog.
GeoCoder is a website that provides geocoding services including free access to a crowdsourced compiled database of Canadian postal codes. Canada Post argues it is the exclusive copyright holder of all Canadian postal codes and claims that GeoCoder appropriated the database and made unauthorized reproductions.
GeoCoder said it compiled a postal code database by using crowdsource techniques without any reliance on Canada Post’s database. The site created a 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. This, Geist said, is a system not unlike many marketers that similarly develop databases by compiling this information. “The company notes that it has provided access to the information for free for the last eight years and that it is used by many NGOs for advocacy purposes,” Geist wrote.
Key issues in the case are:
- Is there is any copyright in postal codes?
- Does Canada Post own copyright in the database?
- Does the database created independently by GeoCoder infringe on Canada Post’s copyright?
“Given the government’s emphasis on open data, the federal government may have something to say about Canada Post’s efforts to restrict public compilation and distribution of postal code information,” said Geist.
“Many groups rely on GeoCoder’s information for affordable access to postal code data to engage in political advocacy. Canadian courts may hear why ensuring continued access to GeoCoder’s compiled data is in the public interest,” he said.