Copyright Gone Mad in Canada

The Copyright Flag of Canada.Any monopoly over public information is questionable, but we cast an especially gimlet gaze on attempts to monopolize publicly-funded information.  That's what the government of Canada is doing to GeoCoder.ca right now (well, "doing to all Canadians" would be more accurate, but GeoCoder.ca is the lucky proximate target).

Canada Post is upset over GeoCoder's freely-licensed database of Canadian postal codes.  Since 2004 GeoCoder has crowdsourced the creation of a geo-coded Canadian postal code database.  That is, members of the public have entered postal codes (public data) linked to location information (also public data).  The resultant dataset is useable by anyone, and saves people from having to pay Canada Post $5000 CAD for an official copy.

So what does Canada Post do?  Naturally, they sue.

(Plant face firmly in desk here.)

No, really.  It's not April Fool's Day anymore -- we wouldn't make this up.  Here's a quote from Canada Post's lawyer-gram:

  1. Canada Post is the owner of copyright in the CPC database as further defined herein;
  2. the Defendant has infringed Canada Posts's copyright in the CPC database by producing and reproducing, without the consent of the Plaintiff, the CPC Database and substantial portions thereof in the course of the development, update, distribution and sale of the Defendant's dataset products, including the Defendant's Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset (the "CPCG Dataset") contrary to section 27(1) of the Copyright Act, R.S.C. 198, c.C-42 as amended (the "Copyright Act"); and
  3. the Defendant has infringed Canada Post's copyright in the CPC Database by:
    1. selling or renting out;
    2. distributing to such an extent as to affect Canada Post prejudicially as owner of the copyright;
    3. by way of trade, distributing, exposing, offering for sale and exhibiting in public;
    4. possessing for the purposes of the activities described in subparagraphs (a) to (c) copies of the CDC Database and substantial portions thereof, including  the CPCG Dataset which the Defendant knew or should have known infringed the Plaintiff's exclusive copyright, contrary to section 27(2) of the Copyright Act;

...I can't really stand to type in any more of that (it's from a PDF image; also, it's offensive to reason), but you can see the whole complaint here: page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.

You can donate to GeoCoder.ca to assist with their defense.  In their words: "Fighting for principle is expensive, and we will do it. Even against the odds, namely the foremost law firm in the country for IP litigation, hired by Canada Post to bring us down."

Update 2012-04-28: there's a terrific writeup by David Eaves about this now.

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2 Comments

Re: Copyright Gone Mad in Canada

An interesting example of the fertile imagination of the plaintiff's legal council, according to the defense filing:
 
Contrary to to the Plaintiff's assertion at paragraph 11 of the Statement of Claim that "Her Majesty's copyright to the CPC Database was transferred to Canada Post" under section 63 of the Canada Post Corporation, no section 63 of the current Canada Post Corporation Act even exists. Neither does the Act that came into force in 1981 transfer such title.

Re: Copyright Gone Mad in Canada

From the sounds of it, GeoCoder is independently constructing its database rather than simply copying Canada Post's. The last time I checked, independent creation is an absolute defense against a claim of copyright infringement. Canada Post is, bizarrely, asserting something almost more like a patent here.