Geocoder, the Ottawa-based company that managed to develop a database of postal codes using crowdsourcing techniques, has settled a controversial lawsuit brought by Canada Post. Canada Post sued in 2012 claiming intellectual property rights in postal codes. Geocoder did not copy the postal codes, however. Instead, it used crowdsourcing to develop a database containing over one million Canadian postal codes after asking people to submit their postal codes with their address. The database is freely available under a Creative Commons licence and is enormously valuable for organizations that need access to the data but are unable to pay the steep fees levied by Canada Post. While many open data advocates have long argued that this information should be available under government open data initiatives, Canada Post has steadfastly refused.
The Canada Post lawsuit has been simmering for several years, but late last month the parties reached a settlement. Canada Post has agreed to discontinue the lawsuit and Geocoder will continue to make its database available to the public. The settlement statement acknowledges:
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.
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. As Geocoder notes, CIPPIC and Ridout & Maybee provided support in contesting the lawsuit.