Two Questions on Canadian Postal Codes

I find it interesting that Postal Codes in Canada are not freely available. No our postal service charges a nasty license fee to get them. This means that people who want to explore creating interest apps that might use postal codes to locate services… don’t. As one would expect, zip codes in the US are freely available for anyone to hack with (this great blog post really shows you all the options).

So, two questions.

First, with all the fuss the competition bureau has kicked up around the MLS data – are Canadian postal codes being used to extend the monopoly of Canada Post? Shouldn’t this be data that, if shared, would improve competition? (Let’s forget the fact that Canadian tax dollars created the Post Office and that it might be nice if Canadian citizens could freely use the capital created with their tax dollars to generate further innovation (like the US counterparts can). Sadly, UK citizens are stuck with the same terrible boat as us.

Second, I’d heard rumours that someone was trying to crowd source the location of postal codes in the UK, essentially asking people to simply type in their address and postal in a website to create a parallel dataset. I was wondering if that might be legal here or if Canada Post would launch a legal battle against it. Can you prevent someone from recreating (not copying) at data set like this? My assumption is no…

Either way, it would be nice if Canada Post joined the rest of North America and made this information freely available. It would certainly generate far more new businesses, innovations and efficiencies that would generate further tax dollars for the government and productivity for the Canadian economy… but then, the Post Office would lose a few dollars in revenue. Sigh.

12 thoughts on “Two Questions on Canadian Postal Codes

  1. Sara

    Dave – you need to update your info on the UK situation! As of April 1st (no fooling), Ordnance Survey have released a number of their datasets free to everyone, including Code-Point Open which is a file of all GB postcodes with a geo-referenced centroid. See here for more details: http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/opend…. This has been done as part of the Making Public Data Public initiative on http://data.gov.uk/Now, it's not down to individual house level – but, as on average, a postcode here serves about 15 properties, it is pretty good for most internet/phone applications.Happy to give you more info on UK postcode situation – but don't want to take up too much space! :)

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  2. Neil Ernst

    @Scott, it isn't clear that a database of postal codes would be legal. The main issue is that in Canada government work belongs to the “Crown”, whereas in the U.S. it is public domain. The same is true for aerial photos, satellite imagery, topographic data, and plenty of other datasets the taxpayers paid for. Look at Coast Guard charts for example. They make some small sum by licensing them to providers, but the greater cost is opportunity.

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  4. Daniel Haran

    @scott: that's only the list of 1st letters, each linking to Forward Sortation Areas – the 1st letter/number/letter.@david: There are nearly 800k postal codes, and the database changes every couple of months (and that change set is also copyrighted). It would be a thankless task, and never up to date.Mind you, our current crop of derivative products are not up to date either. One only needs to look at the postal code to federal riding files circulating to see that.The saddest thing here is that US companies will have been in the marketplace for more advanced derivative products, and when our data opens up, they'll have the advantage against local entrepreneurs.

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  5. tim atherton

    i seem to remember from copyright 101 that you can't copright a simple list. so the information in a phone book, for example, can't be copyrighted as it is mereley the collating of existing data and lacks the basic element of creativity required for copyright protection.but it's been a while…. and i don't even play a lawyer on steam radio

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  6. Craig Sellars

    I think the issue lies in the lack of one input, multiple output software that produces easily manipulatable data sets. It is likely CP still uses some sort of data entry system that does not easily produce this kind of data. It takes time for them to assemble a list and that is what you are paying for.This seems to be where the government is going with new software, but we are not there yet.Thanks for the post as always.

    Reply
    1. Edward Clay

      there are few commercial database available out there, so I don’t think it is copyrighted.
      The one that we recently researched and decided to use is from IGEOCODE. Seems pretty up to date compare to other providers, and the price is not killing. They have a pretty standard free online demo for you to try out. http://igeocode.com/products/capostalcodes/demo

      Reply
  7. Craig Sellars

    I think the issue lies in the lack of one input, multiple output software that produces easily manipulatable data sets. It is likely CP still uses some sort of data entry system that does not easily produce this kind of data. It takes time for them to assemble a list and that is what you are paying for.This seems to be where the government is going with new software, but we are not there yet.Thanks for the post as always.

    Reply
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  9. Greg Scratchley

    Here is an interesting development.  Canada post says that simply listing the postal codes means that they can’t sell their own database, and will sue you if you list the postal codes (which are public information).  http://geocoder.ca/?sued=1

    Reply

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