Earlier today I learned on twitter that Canada Post, a Federal Crown Corporation in Canada, had filed suit against the owner of geocoder.ca. This company is a small startup that operates a free online geocoding service, presumably as advertisement for services available by the company’s owner Ervin Ruci.
Although I was disappointed at the news from the beginning, it’s not always the case that the little guy is just minding their business when a corporate giant comes along with their legal team. I read both the Statement of Claim prepared on behalf of Canada Post and the Statement of Defence prepared on behalf of Geolytica, the legal name under which geocoder.ca operates. Below I outline some interesting and some comical highlights of the documents.
The basic claim by the plaintiff is simple, geocoder.ca is infringing on an asserted copyright over a database of Canadian postal codes by duplicating this information and selling it on the website. The statement of defence is far more interesting. It offers this gem:
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.
Seems that the CIPPIC, the organization defending Geolytica, have come out swinging. They follow-up this comment with this:
Further, even if copyright subsists in the CPC Database … the Defendant has not infringed any copyright because it has not produced, reproduced or copied the CPC Database, nor otherwise engaged in any act in respect of the CPC Database which only a copyright owner may do. Nor has the Defendant at any time accessed, or had access, to the CPCC Database.
You see, Ervin Ruci claims to have used a crowdsourcing technique to build information about postal codes in Canada. He did this over a period of years with an algorithm that parsed geocoding queries to his website. So, when someone searched for the address “2475 Bayswater Street, Vancouver, BC, V6K 4N3″, he has pretty good information that the address 2475 Bayswater Street, Vancouver, BC, lies within the area covered by V6K 4N3. Over time, he collected enough information to have a pretty good idea of the geographic coordinates associated with Canadian postal codes. Pretty neat idea.
One last tidbit from the Statement of Defence is this:
An address, including the postal code, is a fact and not an original work within the meaning of the Copyright Act. … If a postal code were not a fact, but were rather a copyrighted work, Canadians would regularly infringe Canada Post’s alleged sole right to produce and reproduce “any part” of the CPC Database, as such right is alleged at paragraph 5 of the Plaintiff’s Statement of Claim. Such a result is absurd.
What this is saying is that postal codes are much like the fact that water is the liquid state of H20. When I say that I used to reside at 2475 Bayswater Street, Vancouver, BC, it is like saying that the building I lived in was a mixed residential/commercial low-rise building. Similarly, the postal code V6K4N3, applies to that address and this is simply a fact rather than a copyright infringement.
The reason this is absurd, as the statement of defence states, is that if “any part” of Canada Post’s allegedly copyrighted database of postal codes is subject to that copyright, then I have just infringed that copyright by writing an old address of mine in this blog post just the same as thousands of Canadians would be infringing the copyright every day by writing their address and postal code on envelopes, forms, job applications, etc. Likewise, any number of businesses that ask customers to share their address for mailing purposes would also be guilty of infringing this copyright by storing their mailing list rather than purchases the Canada Post database.
I wish Ervin Ruci and his defence team CIPPI the best of luck in this case and hope that the judge sets some decent legal precendents so these types of innovation crushing legal moves can be avoided in the future. If you are so inclined, consider donating to Ervin’s legal defence fund here.