Who owns postal codes in Canada?


Yes, only lawyers ask such questions. But now that the question has been asked…. A recent lawsuit has framed this question in copyright terms. In Canada Post Corporation v. Geolytica Inc. c.o.b. Geocoder.ca (Federal Court, No. T-519-12), Canada Post has sued Geocoder for breach of copyright in postal codes. According to the Statement of Claim, a compilation of Canadian postal codes within a database is the property of Canada Post, and a production or reproduction of that database constitutes an infringement of the copyright held by Canada Post. Geocoder, for its part, has responded by claiming in its Statement of Defence that its “Canadian Postal Code Geocoded Dataset” was independently authored through a “crowdsourcing” effort over several years. “Geolytica created this database without ever accessing or copying any database of postal codes of the Canada Post Corporation.” 

The first question is whether postal codes are even eligible for copyright protection? Second, if they are protectable by copyright, but no direct copying occurred, can there be an infringement? What about indirect copying? Perhaps the closest case on record is Ital-Press Ltd. v. Sicoli, 1999 CanLII 8048 (FC), where the court considered telephone listings and indicated the following: telephone listings that are “…garden-variety white pages director[ies], devoid of even the slightest trace of creativity” cannot be eligible for copyright protection (citing the famous US case of Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc…. famous for copyright lawyers that is).

The wider issue is one we’ve seen many times over the history of copyright: a traditional business or institution feels threatened by smaller start-ups who innovate to reproduce or replace an established business model. We will monitor developments in this fascinating case.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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