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Canada Post Files Copyright Lawsuit Over Crowd-sourced Postal Code Database 168

Posted by Soulskill
from the holding-a-copyright-on-being-jerks dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Canada Post has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Geolytica, which operates GeoCoder.ca, a website that provides several geocoding services including free access to a crowd-sourced, compiled database of Canadian postal codes. Canada Post argues that it is the exclusive copyright holder of all Canadian postal codes and claims that GeoCoder appropriated the database and made unauthorized reproductions. GeoCoder compiled the postal code database by using crowdsourcing techniques, without any reliance on Canada Post's database, and argues that there can be no copyright on postal codes and thus no infringement (PDF)."
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Canada Post Files Copyright Lawsuit Over Crowd-sourced Postal Code Database

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  • Eh? (Score:5, Funny)

    by paiute (550198) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:18PM (#39686847)
    In Socialist Canada, Post Office stamps you!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:20PM (#39686869)

    As much as I think the idea of copyrighting post codes is stupid, surely the source of the data doesn't matter. That is like taking a picture, looking at each pixel, manually selecting a similar color pixel and creating a new image, then claiming that you own copyright on this new image. Postcodes should be as uncopyrightable as information about the boundary between counties.

    • by firex726 (1188453) <firex726@3.1415926yahoo.com minus pi> on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:28PM (#39686935)

      Yea, didn't the US deal with this years ago with regards to phone numbers?

      The factual aspect of the numbers could not be copyrighted, only the formatting or something like that.

      • I love the fact that any non-natural system artificially created for a purpose by a person or group of persons can be any more factual than any other creation, such as Harry Potter...

        • JK Rowling cannot copyright the individual facts around the fictional universe she has created, I do not believe, so if you were to create a fan sequel to one of her books it would not be a problem with copyright I do not believe (though it MIGHT be a trademark problem).

          • JK Rowling cannot copyright the individual facts around the fictional universe she has created, I do not believe, so if you were to create a fan sequel to one of her books it would not be a problem with copyright I do not believe (though it MIGHT be a trademark problem).

            Wow, no.

            Facts that are true (or presented as true, e.g. a conspiracy theory, since the author shouldn't get to have it both ways) are treated as being uncopyrightable. Fictional facts, OTOH, usually are copyrightable, at least in aggregate, since copying them is to copy little snippets from the creative work in which they originate. The Seinfeld Aptitude Test case, Castle Rock Entertainment Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group, 150 F.3d 132 (2nd Cir. 1998), is a fairly good example of why your idea wouldn't work.

            • by ais523 (1172701)
              Log tables apparently used to contain deliberate errors for copyright reasons; the idea was that although you couldn't copyright the mathematical fact of what a number's logarithm is, you could copyright the errors. I have no idea if this was ever tested, or if it worked or not.
              • I heard that with maps instead of math tables, putting errors in on purpose to help notice infringement

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cartography#Cartographic_errors [wikipedia.org]

              • Aside from that being bad in case someone really needed reliable numbers, it wouldn't work; if information is provided an claimed as factual, third parties are entitled to rely on that claim for copyright purposes. Nash v. CBS is a good starting point for this sort of thing.

                Of course factual looking information that is presented as an opinion can be protectable. IIRC the values given in the blue book for used cars are protected since they're not really objective facts and not claimed as such.

                Deliberate erro

      • by tepples (727027) <tepples.gmail@com> on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:57PM (#39687189) Homepage Journal
        Common law countries are split about this. In the USA, phone numbers cannot be copyrighted, but in Australia, for example, they can.
        • by rolfwind (528248)

          So if I put my phone number on my business card... the phone company could sue me for copyright infringement, in theory?

          • by tepples (727027) <tepples.gmail@com> on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:27PM (#39688433) Homepage Journal
            No, an individual phone number is not copyrightable, but a collection of them is. In the United States, an exhaustive collection of real-world facts, such as all numbers issued to telephone customers in a particular service area, precludes copyrightability (Feist v. Rural).
            • No, an individual phone number is not copyrightable, but a collection of them is.

              Well, Feist is a little more detailed than that.

              Basically the issue is creativity of the selection and arrangement of uncopyrightable facts. If the selection and arrangement are creative, it can be copyrightable. A phone book selecting all listed numbers in a geographic area, arranging them by last name alphabetical order is not creative. But a phone book that listed only the telephone company's favorite subscribers, in order by the color of their houses or buildings, quite likely would be copyrightable, fo

              • by gl4ss (559668)

                hmm.

                what if you insert fake numbers to the list? it becomes copyrightable, since it's not just a collection of facts?-DD

        • by mrbester (200927) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @05:14PM (#39688331) Homepage
          There is a good reason for that: both Canada and Australia are Commonwealth countries, i.e. they used to be part of the British Empire. Britain's telephone system was owned by the General Post Office (a Government Agency - deliberate capitalisation) who issued numbers. These were Crown Copyright (same as Ordnance Survey maps still are) and you had to pay to use the base data. The same applies to this day for post codes in the UK. Thus the system of telephone numbers and postal addresses being defined and maintained by government agencies and protected by copyright naturally was used in the colonies.
    • by king neckbeard (1801738) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:30PM (#39686957)
      Copyright provides for independent authorship, so if the database was truly compiled independently, it wouldn't be copyright infringement, even if Canada idiotically allows postcode databases to be copyrighted.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mrjb (547783)
      Facts should not be copyrightable. The fact that street A has postcode B, therefore should not be copyrightable, never mind that you 'invented' or 'generated' those facts. But I don't think your analogy is particularly strong.

      If you blatantly make an analog copy of the Mona Lisa, that's copyright infringement even if the target work doesn't have the exact same colour values as the original. But what's happening here is more like trying to paint a copy of the Mona Lisa without ever looking at the original
      • by Kneo24 (688412) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:35PM (#39687487) Homepage
        Why would you post a link to ONE picture where you need to be logged in to view? I realize my comment is off-topic, but when you're having a public discussion and you're trying to use examples to back up your points so they're more clear, I can't help but wonder why you would choose an example behind a wall that we have to now get over.
      • by Smauler (915644)

        If you blatantly make an analog copy of the Mona Lisa, that's copyright infringement even if the target work doesn't have the exact same colour values as the original.

        Wait, have they extended copyright duration again?

      • by Megane (129182)

        After years of work, you present your result to the general public, and it looks, well, like this [comic-freaks.com].

        It ends up like "(http://www.comic-freaks.com/images/stories/mona-lisa/mona-lisa-03.jpg)
        You are not authorised to view this resource.
        You need to login.
        " on a web page covered with scammy ad links? Wow, no wonder Canada Post is so pissed off.

    • by mcavic (2007672)
      A database containing factual information can be copyrighted, because it takes time and effort to maintain the database. The data itself (arguably) can't be copyrighted.

      Here in the US, the post office sells their zip code database for around $1000/year, as I recall, and I'm sure that where this issue comes from.
      • > A database containing factual information can be copyrighted...

        Not in the USA.

        > ...because it takes time and effort to maintain the database.

        "Sweat of the brow" is irrelevant. "Creative expression" is what matters. See Feist v Rural Telephone.

    • Actually the data source does matter. Take font copyrights for instance. It is a violation to directly copy the data from a non-free font (including metadata like kerning pairs) but it is okay to trace a font manually and redigitize the outlines.

  • by American Patent Guy (653432) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:32PM (#39686973) Homepage

    I'd say that postal codes aren't "works of authorship" entitled to copyright protection. It looks like the canadian lawyer is making a similar argument from paragraph 23 on.

    Oh, wait ... I am a lawyer ...

    • by Epimer (1337967)

      It isn't the postal codes per se which have been claimed to have been infringed, though, is it? It's the database of postal codes.

      I don't know about US or Canadian copyright law, but under UK copyright law there are sui generis database rights which would apply in this case despite a postal code in itself not being eligible for copyright protection.

      • There are such rights in the U.S., but to copy a database, you must first have access to it. When was GeoCoder given access to the Canadian Post files? As the GeoCoder DB is an independent, crowdsourced work, the only claim the Canadian Post could have is in its contents.

        • by Epimer (1337967)

          I'm not saying that the CP's claim is valid, only pointing out the difference between a claim that postal codes per se were being "infringed" as opposed to the database.

    • Actually, I'd argue that since Canada Post is a crown corporation, and are funded by the public, any works they produce are owned by the public.

      That being said, I'd also question the need for such a site in the first place, given that Canada Post actually has a very good database of postal codes available on their site, which is searchable by street name/number, city name, etc..

  • by dmomo (256005) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:34PM (#39686997) Homepage

    My first reaction was: It's a Dangerous path, once "facts" can become copyrighted. Then I (gasp) RTFA.

    There are two claims made by the article:

    1) Canada Post argues that it is the exclusive copyright holder of all Canadian postal codes
    If the issue is #1, then this is truly asinine, in my opinion. I am no scholar of copyright law, especially how it is applied in Canada. This claim may or may not be true. However, I could find no evidence the the Canada Post made such a claim. I may not have searched through the links provided with enough thoroughness. But, could it be that the author of the article either assumed it, or simply made it up? Does anyone have support for this claim, which to me seems absurd?

    2) Canada Post says GeoCoder appropriated the database and made unauthorized reproductions.
    If the issue is #2 They claim that there were "unauthorized reproductions" of their database made. This could be a legitimate copyright infringement. Again. I see no evidence that Canada Post makes this claim either.

    In fact, I see no mention of "copyright" other than in the article. There is just this post:
    http://geocoder.ca/?sued=1 [geocoder.ca] ... which states that Canada Post is suing for lost revenue.

    Now, these claims may in fact be true, and I don't necessarily doubt them. I would however like to see solid links to sources, for instance the text of the lawsuit. It's difficult to figure out what is fact and what is speculation.

    • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:43PM (#39687073)

      The URL having sued=1 in it is making it hard for me to stop laughing.

    • by MacGyver2210 (1053110) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:00PM (#39687215)

      If you read the Statement of Defence on that page, in section 29 they pretty clearly outline why this is nonsense:

      29. The Plaintiff's claim to copyright in the CPC Database would lead to absurd results. Individual Canadians and businesses regularly and frequently collect and use postal codes in address books, mailing lists, customer lists, supplier lists, and an infinite variety of lists. If the Plaintiff's assertion of
      copyright in the CPC Database were well founded, all of these collections of addresses and the postal codes therein would reproduce parts of the CPC Database and so would infringe copyright. The result would be copyright infringement on a massive, near-universal scale, since none of these uses are
      licensed. Entire fields of economic activity – directory publishers, database distributors, online lookup tools, even telephone directories such as the Yellow Pages – would overnight be relegated to the status of infringers.

      Also, it is of note that GeoCoder is saying even the Canada Post corp doesn't own the copyright, and that the database cannot be copyrighted as a collection of facts:

      26. Even though Geolytica did not copy the CPC Database, Canada Post also does not own copyright in the CPC Database as a compilation. Geolytica denies the Plaintiff's claim to the contrary at paragraph 5 of the Statement of Claim.
      27. Geolytica pleads that the CPC Database is itself a fact. The CPC Database can only substantially take on one form, wherein this compilation of facts remains a non-copyrightable fact.
      28. Further, the selection and arrangement of data into the CPC Database involves no skill and judgment. Although there may have been an exertion of labour to establish a postal code designation system, Canada Post Corporation did not, and does not, exert a non-trivial amount of skill and judgment to create and maintain the CPC Database. The CPC Database simply collects “all the postal codes”. This is a “collection”, not a “selection” or “arrangement”. Nor does the Canada Post Corporation exhibit skill or judgement in collecting “all the postal codes”.

    • I will simplify it for you.

      Just more government-union greed.

      Postal codes are by defacto public information. Just desperate for money Posties want a royalty. Should just say stuff it.

    • by dmomo (256005)

      As Mathinker comments below, links to the actual legal documents are there on geocoder's website on the footer of the page.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Is Canda Post a quasi-governmental agency like the USPS, a fully-operated agency of the government, or what? I keep seeing more batshit-crazy legal shit coming out of Canada, you must have been infested with the same shitbags that are running THIS country now.

  • by morethanapapercert (749527) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:37PM (#39687021)
    Postal codes were created by Canada Post for its own convenience in sorting and delivering mail. On that level, the data belongs to Canada Post and only they can change it. However; Canada Post is a crown corporation, all the data it generates is done using a mixture of public funds and postage revenues. Just as with scientific research results, I argue that the use of public funds mandates that the resulting data be freely accessible to anyone. Canada Post can not stop anyone from publishing this data, even for profit. I note that in my province, and presumably all the others, there are phone books other than the one published by Bell. These local phone directories include postal codes as part of the address listings as a vale-add to differentiate themselves from the more well known Bell phone directories.

    Canada Post hasn't sought to stop these directories from including the postal codes, so I don't believe it should seek to stop an online publication either.

    In other respects, Canada Post has shown itself to be a fairly forward thinker for a government operation. To me, the fact that Geolytica has created their website is proof that there is a market opportunity there that Canada Post has overlooked. Canada Post could; and I dare say should, simply out compete Geolytica by creating a more comprehensive and easier to use web page of its own. Canada Post might not be able to compete with the US listings Geolytica also has, but I think there is much room for improvement on the look and feel of the web page itself. (How many run of the mill users even know the difference between HTML, XML and JSON let alone *care*? geocoder.ca uses google maps, but it doesn't look as if they took any design ideas from Google)

    • by mirix (1649853)

      Canada post is entirely free of govn't cash lately - it is self sustaining off of postage costs and such.

      Though they used to be a direct arm of the government, and presumably got all the (previously govn't) real estate, trucks, etc, gifted to them. (30 years ago or so)... so that should make things easier.

    • I don't know this as fact, but I would put money on Canada Post charging for these other phone directories to put the postal codes in. Even Geocoder says that Canada Post does this, they quote it being around $5000 per copy of the database.

      And Canada Post has an easy to use, comprehensive webpage [canadapost.ca] where you can search for listings.

    • by DarthVain (724186)

      While I don't totally disagree with you, what you are basically saying is that public funds = freely accessible information, which is not, or ever has been the case.

      Just because something was created by government, using public funds, does not make it publicly freely available (you can argue if it should or not as you like). There is plenty of research, data collected, etc... that is Licenced for use, and their are various Licences, some of which have fees and others which don't, some limit access, others h

  • by dryriver (1010635) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:37PM (#39687023)
    A postal code is a short numeric sequence that makes it easier for the postman to deliver a package/letter to the right building/apartment. It is really not much different, functionally speaking, from a telephone number, an email address or a room number. Are telephone numbers copyrighted? Don't think so. Are email addresses copyrighted? I've never heard of such a thing. Copyrighting room numbers in a building? Not even technically possible. And who pays for postal codes to be created/used in the first place? The Canadian taxpayer. That should make postal codes a "public good", owned collectively by the taxpaying Canadian public. Creating a free listing of postal codes, where anyone can look up postal codes, is a convenience, and a service rendered to the public. And a good one too, since it is "free", and nobody profits from it. Besides, if search engines can index the entire f___ing Internet, without anyone crying "Oy! That's my copyrighted webpage you are indexing!", how can a simple "Canadian postal code lookup function" be a breach of copyright? If the article is correct, the site in question didn't even copy the Postal Services postal code database. It built its own, from user contributions. I really don't see how "copyright" even figures into this case...
    • by Epimer (1337967)

      It's the database of copyrights which a copyright claim has been brought with respect to, not the postal codes themselves. Databases are protected by copyright (disclaimer: in the jurisdictions I know about, which don't include Canada), but individual postal codes would not be.

    • Whilst I don't necessarily agree that this is a copyright issue (see below), there are a number of problems with your arguments:

      The Canadian taxpayer did pay for it, whilst supporting the state funded Canada Post. When companies pay the $5000 to buy the database, that makes it $5000 cheaper for the rest of the Canadian taxpayers to send mail - that money has to be found from somewhere after all. Ergo, net benefit to the Canadian taxpayer.

      There isn't a public listing of email addresses - unlike both phone nu

    • by mark-t (151149)

      A postal code is a short alphanumeric sequence that makes it easier for the postman to deliver a package/letter to the right building/apartment.

      FTFY. We're talking about Canada here.

    • Please try to keep in mind, these laws are old, and not being under the reign of a monarch is new. These issues will affect every former UK colony.

      It is really not much different, functionally speaking, from a telephone number, an email address or a room number. Are telephone numbers copyrighted? Don't think so. Are email addresses copyrighted? I've never heard of such a thing.

      Australia and NZ are still hashing it out, actually.
      http://www.baldwins.com/australian-and-new-zealand-copyright-law-for-databases-compilations-and-directories/ [baldwins.com]

      And who pays for postal codes to be created/used in the first place? The Canadian taxpayer. That should make postal codes a "public good", owned collectively by the taxpaying Canadian public. Creating a free listing of postal codes, where anyone can look up postal codes, is a convenience, and a service rendered to the public.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crown_copyright#Canada [wikipedia.org]
      "Permission to reproduce Government of Canada works, in part or in whole, and by any means, for personal or public non-commercial purposes, or for cost-

  • Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:43PM (#39687075)

    A guy creates a site that makes it easier for customer's to use their service, why the hell are they suing him?

  • This blatant and unlawful activity must stop. Every day millions of post items are sent with Postal Codes illegally and unlawfully printed on them by people not under the employ or direction of the Postal Service.

    We must start a campaign to get people to stop placing these postal codes on their post so that the Postal Service can rightfully keep their Postal Code System all to themselves.

    • by Zocalo (252965)
      That was my first thought too. If Canada Post is truly claiming copyright on apost code DB, then where do you draw the line? How much of the database can someone use before they are infringing copyright? If it's one line, then everyone needs to stop using Canadian postcodes until this issue is resolved or they risk being sued. A few dozen? Well, that's all but the smallest of businesses still screwed. A few hundred? Still snarling up larger businesses there... A few thousand then? Nope. The likes
      • That was my first thought too. If Canada Post is truly claiming copyright on apost code DB, then where do you draw the line?

        Very simple. They should have the copyright on their postcode database, so nobody should be allowed to copy their database without licensing it. However, anybody else should be allowed to independently collect the information and create their own independent postcode database.

  • If postcodes are copyright, then everyone who uses one should be paying a license fee, right?

    Just point this out, then everyone stops using the postcode, and see how quickly they come around when they have to employ many, many more sorting staff for each post office.

    • If postcodes are copyright, then everyone who uses one should be paying a license fee, right?

      No. Copyright is the right to copy, not the right to profit. If you copy something and give it away for free, you are just as guilty of copyright infringment as if you sold the copies.

      GPLed software is free. It is still copyrighted.

    • by mark-t (151149)
      Actually, I'm pretty sure that Canada Post isn't under any real obligation to deliver packages that don't have a postal code given. If you go to a post office to drop off a package you want to send, they won't even accept it if it doesn't have a postal code on it. Also, if there is no postal code on a letter that was dropped in a mailbox, then they tend to deliver it when they "get around to it"... which can take a *VERY* long time. On the order of months.
  • by benad (308052) * on Saturday April 14, 2012 @02:48PM (#39687119) Homepage Journal
    From personal experience, Canada Post increased ten-fold their database licensing costs. My company tried to negotiate, and the best CP proposed is some rebates for the first two years, so of course we had to drop them. So, Geocoder, good luck!
    • Out of interest, how much did Canada Post want to charge for their database?

      • by benad (308052) *
        For the "redistributable license", meaning you use the data for something other than mailing junk mail, the price went from 4K to around 45K per year. FYI, USPS licensed data of the same kind is around 2K. The same phenomenon happened in Australia (it was about 80K IIRC), again asserting bogus copyright claims over public information.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 14, 2012 @03:00PM (#39687209) Homepage

    In the US, this issue was settled in Feist vs. Rural Telephone, which was about copyright in telephone directories. The US Supreme Court ruled that such collections of facts are not copyrightable on constitutional grounds. In Canada, there's Tele-Direct (Publications) Inc. v. American Business Information, Inc [canlii.org], which covers much the same ground. "Labour alone not determinative of originality ... Compilation so obvious, commonplace not meriting copyright protection."

    I'm surprised CanadaPost even raised the issue.

  • ... what a bunch of maroons [youtube.com]!
  • They still rely on city and province as a fall back, right? Seems if they are "copyrighted" then you should send mail without using the postal codes.
  • At least not in the US, but I'm pretty sure that applies to Canada also. If they did indeed crowd-source the data, this lawsuit should be DOA.

  • Um Whoops?

    The way I see it, that is the crux of the case.

    If it WAS crowd sourced then I don't seen an issue, they are doing their own data collection. If they STOLE the database from which the information is created from (and likely sold and licenced from), then yes, that would be an issue.

    Of course how does one "appropriate" a database? Are they claiming they were hacked? Likely it exposes security flaws and unaccountability within Canada Post, as in who as access to the production database, and how could

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