Canada Post Might Own the Copyright to Your Postal Code

And the phrase “postal code."

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Jun 3 2016, 7:40pm

Image: Flickr/Cliffano Subagio

After a years-long legal battle, Canada Post has decided that, actually, it won't claim to own the copyright to every Canadian's postal code—including yours.

That's awfully nice of them, but unfortunately it doesn't protect anybody who's ever, say, ordered delivery online from having a suit brought against them, if Canada Post had successfully argued this. Really, the Crown corporation just settled a lawsuit wherein it claimed to own the copyright to every postal code in the country. Because of that settlement, a judge never ruled on the claim.

"We're still faced with the uncertainty of Canada Post advancing these sorts of claims against others who might want to use their postal codes," said David Fewer, director of the University of Ottawa's Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, which provided legal counsel to Geolytica, the Ottawa company sued by Canada Post.

Canada Post licenses postal code information to businesses for a fee and may limit the number of postal code searches performed by individuals on its site.

A proposal on Open Canada to make the postal code database free to use for all Canadians has garnered many comments in support.

"Canada Post should acknowledge that the approach they've taken to date isn't in the best interest of the public"

Geolytica invited all Canadians to voluntarily submit their own postal codes to a database that anybody could search, and which is available under a Creative Commons license.

In response, Canada Post filed a lawsuit in 2012 claiming that Geolytica infringed on its intellectual property rights by "reproducing" its database of postal codes. Geolytica called this claim "absurd," and since every Canadian no doubt shares their own postal code with friends, family or businesses on a near-daily basis, argued that it would constitute copyright infringement on a "massive, near-universal" scale.

Canada Post also attempted to claim copyright on the word-pair "postal code." Yes, they attempted to own even the very phrase itself.

On May 30, Canada Post dropped the suit and settled with Geolytica. The terms of the settlement are confidential.

"Canada Post is no longer claiming copyright on my crowdsourced database," said Ervin Ruci, Geolytica's founder. "I will continue to do my work until Canada Post decides to open-source their information."

"It's important because people use this information when they look for services near them or where to vote," Ruci continued. "Having it will improve open services for the public."

Canada Post did not respond to Motherboard's request for comment.

According to Fewer, the ideal solution would be for Canada Post to join the open data movement, which holds that government data should be free to use and open to all, and make their database of postal codes public.

"Canada Post should acknowledge that the approach they've taken to date isn't in the best interest of the public, or even to their own organization," said Fewer.

If Canada Post doesn't do this, we may only get a final answer as to whether the government holds the copyright to your postal code through another ugly lawsuit.