Canada Post claims exclusive use of the words "postal code"

Canada Post -- a failing, state-owned Crown Corporation -- not only claims a copyright on the database of postal codes (a collection of facts, and not the sort of thing that usually attracts copyright). They also claim a trademark on the words "postal code," and have sent legal threats to websites that use the words factually, to describe actual postal codes.

Canada Post disagrees. The crown corporation now argues that the very term “postal code” is subject to a trademark owned by Canada Post. Anyone using the term “postal code,” therefore, does so at their own risk.

“Canada Post has adopted and used Canadian Official Mark POSTAL CODE,” the statement of claim reads. “The Defendants have passed off their wares and services as and for those of Canada Post contrary to section 7(c) of the Trade-marks Act.”

What this means is Canada Post is changing direction in their lawsuit against Geolytica.

Geolytica has argued since the lawsuit began that they did not copy the Canada Post postal code database, but instead built their own based on the feedback of their own users. They crowd-sourced it. This makes Canada Post’s original copyright claim trickier, even if you set aside the facts vs. intellectual property argument.

Canada Post says they hold trademark on the words ‘postal code’


  1. Postal code. This is almost, postal code, as ridiculous, postal code, as Donald, postal code, Trump trying, postal code, to copyright the, postal code, phrase “You’re fired.” Postal code.

    Canada Post, postal code, I look forward, postal code, to your, postal code, lawsuit. I suspect, postal code, though, that my, postal code, email program will, postal code, automatically dump it in the folder for lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pâté, brandy and a fried egg on top and Spam.

    Postal code.

  2. Henceforth, all Canadian addresses should refer to it as a Litigious Bunch Of Asshats Who Should Be First Against The Wall When The Revolution Comes Alphanumeric Sorting Code.

  3. It seems to me like Geolytica is selling for profit information that is public and should be available free. Is that really something awesome?  How about if it’s “crowdsourced?” Does that make it awesome?

    It seems like Canada Post has done something boneheaded by trying to use copyright law, and now trademark law to go after them. Maybe their lawyers are flailing around because it’s actually legal to flece the public in this way – but it shouldn’t be.

    I think here in the US we had a similar case involving US Geological Survey maps, but I don’t recall the details.

    1. Canada post was selling the same information (which should be free). Geolytica is selling a better, more effective, and cheaper way to access it, use it, and analyze it.

      Linux is free, but there are plenty of supporters of RedHat, even though RedHat sells Linux for money. Why? Because they add value. There’s nothing wrong with charging for adding value so that you can continue adding value.

      Canada Post should DEFINITELY be offering said information for free, though – and in such a world, I’d imagine there would still be people paying Geolytica.

    2. Didn’t the UK do the same thing and as a result wasn’t there a website crowdsourcing UK postal codes to build a free database?

  4. Depending on the specific license, you may be free to bundle and sell that information for profit.  You are just as free to bundle and collect that information for yourself, if you so choose.
    Here are the available CC licenses along with their restrictions:

    Why not sell completely open and free data?  It’s open and free, so by definition you should be able to do with it as you please.

  5. It costs thousands of dollars to buy a file containing the Canadian postal code boundaries, which should of course be freely available as a set of public facts built using taxpayer money. 

    The cost of those files makes Canada Post a little extra revenue every year and is a high enough barrier to entry that it prevents who-knows-how-much economy growing innovation in spatially mediated services. That idiotic rent-seeking is what Canada Post is trying to protect with this move, and as idiotic as trademarking “postal code” would be, I think it’s actually *less idiotic* that the status quo idiocy.

    Of course it’s fresh, new idiocy, so it should also be opposed.

    1. That’s a report funded by Canada Post. They’re trying to justify fucking over the workers. Take a look at their solutions to fix the problem. Freeze wages, alternate day delivery for letters (so cut hours or jobs), eliminate door-to-door delivery (cut jobs), replace more Canada Post owned post offices with franchises (get rid of union employees and replace them with someone in a pharmacy), and reduce speed of delivery (cut sorting jobs).

  6. That’s cool – we can all just stop using the postal code for mail in Canada and then they can figure out (manually?) where stuff should be going.

     It’s far more of a convenience to them than to the rest of us and if they want to discourage its use that’s their choice.

    When I lived in Canada (some years ago), we all gave up using Canada Post since there was literally a 10-20% disappearance rate of letters / parcels / etc.  I’ve only ever used it for postcards since then.

  7. “a failing, state-owned Crown Corporation” This is bellow the belt. 
    Canada was built and continues to depend on state owned not-for-profit systems. No private entity is going to pick up what Canada post does. 

    And does more efficient than the  USPO. 

    Fed ex and other couriers have stated they are not interested in delivering letters to homes. 

    1. The problem is that if Canada Post claims to be non-profit, it is lying.  It operates with the clear intention of making a profit. Where I live, Canada Post arbitrarily changed every single address recently, putting hundreds of us to immense trouble and expense, so that they could sell their mailing list to spammers for more money. In other words, we had to pay all the expenses of pimping us out. That is not only for-profit, but for-profit at the expense of the people nominally served.

        1. IT IS YOUR MAIL DISPENSARY, CITIZEN. It’s basically a bunch of post office boxes, but alone in the wilderness instead of inside a post office. They’re magnets for graffiti.

          My neighbourhood doesn’t have these, so any parcels larger than one or two VHS tapes are routed to a Kwiki-Mart style place (named Quickie, ha) with a small “pretend post office” inside.

  8. I hereby claim copyright on the word “the.” I expect everyone in the world to pony up a very reasonable $.01/use in any written or spoken context. Just don’t send the check via Canada Post©.

    1. Unfortunately the idea of commenting on an IP abuse story with any variation of “I’m [patenting|copyrighting|trademarking] the idea of {simple thing in very common usage}” has a lot of prior art going for it.

    1. Have you seen Dara O’Briain’s bit about sending letters to Ireland from England? I have some Irish friends and have sent letters over every so often; that bit of his rang true,

  9. Ah the dying spasms of obsoleted industries! Just like the entertainment companies and their meaningless, futile war on internet piracy. Get busy livin’ in the internet age or get busy dyin’ alone, forgotten and irrelevant. The internet changed stuff Canada Post, get over it. 

  10. >>>I think here in the US we had a similar case involving US Geological Survey maps, but I don’t recall the details.

    Highly unlikely unless it was many many years ago.

    Federally funded products are not copyrighted.  This is in copyright law, the FAR regs for federal contractors, as well as White House OMB policy which is to specifically encourage the resale of government data.  That’s in addition to the SCOTUS Feist decision denying copyright protection to lists of factual information in an obvious arrangement, even when it is privately funded and owned.

    In the case of Canada, everything is cronyism and under the table deals. That is not a secret – what Americans call “conflict of interest” is Canadian “synergy.”

    This company should move the US where they can sue the Canadian company in American courts for conspiracy and racketeering. They could also demand to have matter resolved under NAFTA because Canada is supposed conform to US IP laws.

  11. Dear Canadians, just use the term your Australian cousins use and call it a Post Code. Then Canada Post can keep “Postal Code” to their official crap.

    1. Heck, for that matter just stick to code postal, the term used in France as well. Or just avoid using capitalisation.

      Canada Post must be kicking themselves now for not choosing a non-common term like ZIP code. And their current actions remind me of kids when they are losing an argument, how they thrash about looking for at least a tiny shred of being right.

  12. I went online and made payment for the seven times I uttered the words “postal code” today. It was only $48 with tax, but I feel it was well worth it, and it makes you fell that all’s right with the world. I urge all fellow “postal code” users to do the same. 

    That’s two more just above. I think I may have to set up automatic debits to my credit card.

  13. Before people get all in a twist, they should read the background on this one. Regardless of the whole trademark thing and everything else is that the lawsuit is basically about theft. Since it is theft of a digital product, it is about copyright.

    If I recall the core to the lawsuit isn’t about terms or trademarks. The company in question approached Canada Post about there database. They declined. Canada Post claims they appropriated it anyway (not sure how) and use it in their software. They counter saying that it was all crowd sourced.

    That is basically what is at contention. Not the use of the word “Postal Code”. However once lawyers get involved, they are going to use every avenue in order to be successful for their client. If that involves stunts like this, then well it happens.

    It all boils down to: “You stole our DB”, and “no we didn’t we crowd sourced it”, then trying to prove one way or another. Undoubtedly this is just another legal tactic at work.

  14. Postal code is, and always has been, nothing more than a descriptive phrase. Bite me Canada Post.

  15. You can find information about ZIP Codes™  at USPS. Don’t go messing with their trademarked term, like calling them zip codes.

    1. The only way you could be in violation of that trademark is if you came up with your own different coding system for physical areas and called it zip codes. As long as you’re not using them in context of a directly competing business you can do whatever you want with trademarks without even indicating the ™. When you write an article mentioning a dumpster and Dumpster’s lawyers send you a letter asking you to capitalize and notate the word, that’s a request, not a legal demand, regardless of how much intimidating bluster it’s couched in.

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