Does the future of Canada Post lie in offering Canadian-based cloud services and rural broadband? The Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates thinks it might. The committee released a report yesterday on the future of Canada Post that ventures into the digital realm with several recommendations that will make little sense to those that closely follow digital policy in Canada. The committee report includes discussion that Canada Post could offer a Canadian-based cloud service, a Canadian social network, and rural broadband services. The recommendations include:
The federal government examine, with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the possible delivery of broadband Internet and improved cellular service to rural Canada using Canada Post real estate to house servers and offer retail services to customers.
While there is unquestionably a need to address the rural broadband access issue in Canada, there is little reason to believe that Canada Post, which brings no particular expertise and no money to invest in the actual networks, is the right organization to solve the problem.
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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.
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The Ottawa Citizen reports that Treasury Board and Canada Post are at odds over making the postal code database openly available to the public. Treasury Board wants the information openly available, while Canada Post wants to charge thousands of dollars for it.
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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 crowdsourced 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, which is being represented by CIPPIC, filed its statement of defence yesterday (I am on the CIPPIC Advisory Board but have not been involved in the case other than providing a referral to CIPPIC when contacted by GeoCoder’s founder). The defence explains how GeoCoder managed to compile a postal code database by using crowdsource techniques without any reliance on Canada Post’s database. The site created 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 (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.
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Late last year, Canada Post and the Public Service Alliance of Canada became embroiled in a heated strike action over sick pay benefits. In the midst of the dispute, several PSAC members took direct aim at Canada Post CEO Moya Greene, recording a short parody video titled "The Greench." The video, which was posted on YouTube, adapted the well-known Dr. Seuss tune "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" to criticize Greene and the company. While the creation of a protest video is not particularly noteworthy, what followed soon after is. Just as the video began to attract some attention, YouTube removed it after receiving a complaint from Canada Post alleging that the video violated the company’s copyright.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the case highlights a common occurrence under U.S. law, which allows copyright owners to file complaints with web hosts such as YouTube if they believe that the site is hosting infringing content. Under the law, the web host avoids liability if it immediately removes the content. No court or independent third party reviews the infringement claim since nothing more than a complaint that meets certain criteria is needed. The statutory requirements include providing a statement that the complainant has a "good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of its not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent or the law."
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