Geocoder.ca is a public web service providing both free and commercial geocoding services for North America: Canada and the USA. Geocoding is the process of computing the latitude and longitude of a location.
That may not sound like an obvious target for copyright infringement, since latitude and longitude are clearly just facts. But since 2004, GeoCoder has been carrying out an interesting exercise in crowdsourcing:
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.
That freely-available Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Database became so useful that NGOs and others started using it for serious purposes, much to the chagrin of Canada Post, which provided the “official” database of postal codes and was really rather keen to license it to you for a hefty sum. As Michael Geist wrote back in 2012, the case raised a number of important questions:
Key issues include whether there is any copyright in postal codes (GeoCoder argues that postal codes are facts that are not subject to copyright, noting to conclude otherwise would result in “copyright infringement on a massive, near-universal scale”), questions on whether Canada Post owns copyright in the database if there is copyright (Canada Post relies on a section in the Canada Post Corporation Act that does not appear to exist), and a denial that the crowdsourced version of the database — independently created by GeoCoder — infringes the copyright of the Canada Post database.
Fortunately, a more recent post from Geist explains that Canada Post has finally dropped its lawsuit. According to the GeoCoder page on the litigation, the terms are confidential, but the agreed statement is as follows:
Canada Post commenced court proceedings in 2012 against Geolytica Inc. for copyright infringement in relation to Geolytica Inc.’s Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset and related services offered on its website at geocoder.ca. The parties have now settled their dispute and Canada Post will discontinue the court proceedings. The postal codes returned by various geocoder interface APIs and downloadable on geocoder.ca, are estimated via a crowdsourcing process. They are not licensed by geocoder.ca from Canada Post, the entity responsible for assigning postal codes to street addresses. Geolytica continues to offer its products and services, using the postal code data it has collected via a crowdsourcing process which it created.
As Geist notes on his blog:
The settlement represents a big win for open data in Canada, as the lawsuit raised serious concerns about over-broad copyright claims given suggestions that Canada Post owned the copyright in all postal codes.
It’s just a pity that it took four years for Canada Post to arrive at this commonsense decision.