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back to article Royal Mail lawyers demand closure of postcode lookup site

A UK postcode lookup service has been slapped with a cease and desist letter from the Royal Mail, forcing it to close down its website. Until last Friday (2 October) North London-based Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd had been providing web outfits with an API to power their sites that helped people search for information specific …

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Anonymous Coward

What kind of "IP" is this?

The article could do with a bit more "analysis".

If the IP in question is a "database right" then it only applies in the EU, I think, so people can offer UK postcode APIs from outside the EU, and the Royal Mail might find it rather difficult to stop people in the EU from using those APIs.

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Will they go after Google?

I use Google's map APIs for doing postcode => lat/long lookups. Not sure how accurate it is compared to the postie's database, but it's good enough for my uses.

Jolyon

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Opportunity?

Postcodes just tie an address to an easily-processed identifier. The fact that the structure of a postcode is actually meaningful in terms of post-town, postman's round, etc. is probably only of interest to the Post Office itself.

Given that, is there anything to prevent a company like Google from creating their own postcode system using their mapping data? A simple US-style zipcode system should be easy enough to cook up given a detailed map database. Companies that need to correlate their postcode to their googlecode could easily do so themselves and publish that info.

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Fair enough.

We should all stop using post codes until the PO sees sense.

It would have the added advantage that the PO would have to keep all its staff on in order to sort all of that un-postcoded mail.

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Pint

Ooooh

The RM are really hot on this, basically if you provide a 3rd party postcode lookup then you have to pay them per hit, from what I could tell of the licensing (and it's been a few years since I read it), because they own the UK postcode system, whether or not you're using their data you still have to pay them (the same applies to OS data, because it uses PAF for addresses).

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FAIL

Loses money, not makes it

"In 2007 the Royal Mail made about £1.6m from licensing the Postcode Address File (PAF) database."

And how much would the Government have made if the database was freely accessible and companies using it made extra profits and paid a third of that in extra tax. It's such a short-sighted approach (but then, it's government).

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WTF?

hmm

post codes aren't public domain info? how the hell did the RM swing the ownership on that?

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FAIL

Call off the lawyers Royal Mail

That way maybe you wouldn't have to make such sweeping redundancies

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FAIL

The perfect example of stupidity

First of all Post Codes are NOT intellectual property - what an absolutely ridiculous claim to make - I mean seriously to claim they are intellectual property is about as unintellectual as it gets. Post Codes are basically nothing more than macroscopic indexes which cover a range of entities as opposed to being unique for each entity.

Furthermore, the Post Code system was created with public money so actually we -all- own them, not Royal freaking Mail and for them to try and hold absolute control over them is a strong reminder of how pathetic the IP argument has become.

The Post Office should be forced to make the use of post codes free for non profit purposes. Next thing you know they will be charging us royalties for every damn letter we send that we write a postcode on.

Whomever instructed solicitors to get involved in this really needs to lose their job - it makes me want to setup a postcode site of my own just to get a day in court with the damn fools.

I personally think anyone who gets a C&D on IP grounds should burn the damn thing and relish a day in court. Demand a jury and use the press to make the whole country see just how ridiculous this entire situation is.

For a failing company they are doing a very good job of alienating the very people (the public) they need to support them, after this stunt I hope they go bankrupt despite the fact I have family who work for them.

It is unbelievable - it really is. Common sense seems to have deserted Royal Mail.

(These are my views and do not represent any organisation I work for)

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Yes! Boycott postal codes

I like the idea of boycotting postcodes. All it does is help the RM to automate delivery and make more staff unemployed. We should return to things like "third on the left after the torched car"

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Pirate

Ooohhhh

Lawyers invoke State-enforced monopolies to disallow access to State-held information that was created with State-extorted money in the first place?

When is the Gentlemen of Fortune Party coming to the UK?

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Title

"It’s outrageous that Royal Mail should be sacking workers and at the same time trying to close a service that might help them find work,"

Oh, please. I think sacked postmen just might find sites like jobcentreplus.gov.uk and monster.co.uk *slightly* more useful.

Look, RM is in dire enough straits as is, at least let them hang on to this. From the article it sounds like the Ernest Maple website is using RM's own assets, without charge, to make money for themselves. Some may think that's fine but I don't, I would quite like RM to survive - it may be shit but it's a damn sight better than what would happen if it went under.

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Headmaster

Tenuous

“It’s outrageous that Royal Mail should be sacking workers and at the same time trying to close a service that might help them find work"

That's such a pitifully tenuous argument that it almost put me on the side of the Royal Mail. It didn't though, because the "public money" justification is a good one, but if you're going to issue a response do try to make it worthwhile.

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Anonymous Coward

I wonder if....

....some of those API providers are hacking the free-for-personal use (15 searches a day) postcode finder on the Royal Mail website?

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@Jelliphiish

"post codes aren't public domain info? how the hell did the RM swing the ownership on that?"

They created them, therefore they own them. They are certainly not public domain.

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Strange name?

Do I smell a rat? A rat smelling of dirty tricks?

This company is a new one, created this year and named after the Conservative Postmaster General back in the late 50s. He later became Transport Minister and had to do a moonlight flit (literally) from the country owing 30 years back taxes amongst ofther things. A favourite with some Conserattives because he beat the system (if criminally).

Too many strange coincidences?

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Is the data reliable?

I've known several instances of incorrect postcode location data being out there, including directly from the Post Office and through the JobCentre systems.

In rural areas, Postcodes may cover large areas, but, because of the structure the Post Office needs, they shouldn't be putting you on the wrong side of a major river, with a twenty mile trip via the nearest bridge.

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Anonymous Coward

Why not.......

Trademark your own Postcode and then sue RM for breach ?

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@ Huw 3

"Oh, please. I think sacked postmen just might find sites like jobcentreplus.gov.uk and monster.co.uk *slightly* more useful."

I think you misread the article. They claimed that jobcentreplus used the postcode api to find work close to the applicant, which has now been made useless. So your statement actually backs the api writers.

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Grenade

Yes! Boycott postal codes #

Postcodes are not a requirement they just save the PO money I'm all for stopping using them all together. the PO is still required to deliver 1st class post promptly.

Boycott Post Codes until they are free!

now where is that No10 petition?

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Pint

@Jolyon Ralph

"I use Google's map APIs for doing postcode => lat/long lookups"

And did you know you can also do it the other way around using Google geo-referencing? Seems quite accurate too and works for other countries as well - apart from Republic of Ireland who, apart from the bit around Dublin, appear to still use the ol' "third on the left after the torched potato field" system (thanks Steve Loughran)

Oh and I agree with anyone who is lambasting RM for this stupid action - yes, that post code info belongs to ALL of us (in the UK anyway).

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Alternatives

If you would like to see a more usable unencumbered free postcode source, have a look at http://www.freethepostcode.org/ and http://www.npemap.org.uk/. We haven't yet been issued with a take-down notice, but perhaps that's because we make our collection processes open.

Yes, it's a very small subset of postcodes at the moment, and the accuracy is being worked on, but for many applications our data might be useful.

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@ Alexander Hanff 1

"The Post Office should be forced to make the use of post codes free for non profit purposes. Next thing you know they will be charging us royalties for every damn letter we send that we write a postcode on."

What do you think a stamp is then, could you personally deliver a letter from one end of the country to the other, for the price of a stamp, and make enough profit to make a living?

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Joke

Re : Alexander Hanff 1

"Next thing you know they will be charging us royalties for every damn letter we send that we write a postcode on."

They all ready do, it's called a stamp

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Grenade

The Postcode system should be binned

in favour of the more common, throughout Europe, of 8 numericals. As even putting a postcode on seems to be pointless as the system stills struggles to recocongise the subtle differences between to postcodes that share the same first letter and differ on the second. Many a time my mail has shot to the other end of the country becasuse of this.

Also validating correct Postcode inputs in database is a pain in the arse leading to more wrongly addresses letters. Come on 8 numbers please.

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FAIL

Duhh...

So Royal Mail make £1.6M from Postcodes. That would be £1.6M for the shareholders. Who are they? Ah. Government. The public. Hmm.

Postcomm regulates Royal Mail and limit profits on postcodes. It's not a license to print money. Royal Mail have to maintain the database and the infrastructure it runs on, pay the people who look after it and all the other costs associated with it. So, give it away for free for others to make money from it and how then would it be paid for? Some people just don't see a good deal when it's right in front of them.

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Can I have your postocde please?

Sorry I dont own that information - I cant tell you.

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Welcome

It's a bit like...

It's a bit like local councils retaining house street numbers as IP.

There's something now quite right with this.

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Alien

Once upon a time...

Hang on a sec, i cna remember a campagn many years ago to get people to use postcodes on addresses. The slogan was "your not properly addressed without it".

Now, if they wish to claim intelectual property rights on the postcode, i have several questions to raise, when does the rights expire? and when are they going to issue every person in the world a license to use Postcode data so that we can legally put in an address on my contacts list in outlook and send them a letter?

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Happy

@ Neal

No, the stamp is used to pay for the cost of collecting/sorting and delivering the mail - it is nothing to do with the postcode nor is it a royalty for postcodes. Whether you use a postcode or not you still have to use a stamp.

I think you will probably also find that the origin of the stamp was to give crown protection to mail - it is a royal mark; and that stamps were around a LONG time before postcodes were introduced.

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@why not.....

Because if they have IP on *all* postcodes, then they have "prior art" on your postcode, so you couldn't trademark it in the first place?

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Interesting equation

I wonder what delivering mail addressed with an incorrect postcode costs the Royal Mail each year? I'll wager it's a bit more than £1.6M.

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No sympathy

@Alexander Hanff: the Postcode system is a lot more complex than you make out, and is actually a huge undertaking requiring hundreds of thousands of updates per year at great cost. RM invented it and develops it, so why shouldn't they derive profit from it? If anything in this day and age we should be applauding a nationalised company that consistently makes a profit instead of costing the taxpayer billions and billions.

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Grenade

Its not the postcodes

that they are objecting to. They are public information but the site is issuing map references for the postcodes. Royal Mail are essentially claiming this map reference data is from their database and therefore is subject to copyright. If the data is derived from their database then the take down is perfectly legitimate.

And all the twaddle about postcodes that everyone is posting is total bollocks

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Flame

Disgraceful!!!

The PO badly needs to be legally challenged on this issue; postcode data belongs to all of us, it was developed using our taxes and could not be more 'public domain' in nature!

The Post Office should be forced to inovate if it wants to make cash from this technology, by designing and offering novel and useful services and technologies which utilise the data, rather than trolling it in the WORST possible way.

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Anonymous Coward

not a great loss

Healthwhere is duplicating one of the services provided by the NHS choices online.

Job Centre Pro Plus is taking its data from jobcentre.gov.uk "snaffled" is the website's choice of words

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Paris Hilton

Whose IP?

Just a moment ... RM have my address in their database?

But that's my IP!

Lawyer!!!! Where are you?!

Paris, because she's anyone's IP.

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Headmaster

Only £1.6M

£1.6M doesn't seem very much when you think that a corporate licence costs £75K. I'm sure that RM could do better with a little more marketing....

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@The Postcode system should be binned

What a load of shite. UK postcodes are a tad harder to validate, but there are plenty of regular expressions out there that do the job. Once you've got the correct regex, it's not much harder than validating against a 5 digit integer.

Also, UK postcodes are far more accurate than continental ones (apart some of those in remote areas). When I looked up my uncle's postcode in Germany, it gave the location of it 6km away from his house. It's in a fairly large military town, not in some remote mountainous region.

Is it possible that your post is being delivered to the wrong part of the country simple because your handwriting is undecipherable?

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@Neal5 @ Alexander Hanff 1

Neal5 : "What do you think a stamp is then, could you personally deliver a letter from one end of the country to the other, for the price of a stamp, and make enough profit to make a living?"

Yes. I admit I would take in van loads like RM do, not singly as you imply. Nice little earner.

It's like I read it costs c£30,000 pa to maintain each railway level crossing. You could keep a skilled fitter stood by each one for 2 days a week for that, even allowing for occasional spares. But have you ever even SEEN anyone maintaining a level crossing? I never have, so they must need very little maintenance. I'd like to maintain a dozen please, at that price.

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@Alexander Hanff reposte 2

You've just killed your original posting with that. So will the real Alexander Hanff please stand up.

You've answered in a manner that suggest only that bulk postings pay, so I would indeed appreciate your reply to why "junk" mail postings are fractional costing to a singular letter, not in the fashion that bulk mailing needs to be subsidised, but to explain to me , a second class stamp is the price it is, and a "junk" mail posting is less than half that price. They get collected, sorted and delivered in exactly the same way.

And yes, it's business, which again negates your first posting.

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@Jolyon Ralph

Many sites, presumably including Google, pay the RM a licence fee for the PAF. Since Ernest Marples (wasn't he the transport minister in the sixties?) claim not to have a copy of the PAF or anything in cache then I'd guess that what they are actually doing is somehow using somebody else's PAF access. It could be that they are scraping from somebody else's site.

The idea that this information should be available free is sound, if only for personal use, but that isn't a problem becuase it's freely available from the Royal Mail's own website.

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FAIL

Poppycock

@Duhh..., your argument about RM having to pay the costs to administrate the Post Code database doesn't hold water.

The whole database is there to make the postal service more efficient and thereby reduce operational costs for RM.

If the post code database doesn't pay for itself through operational efficiencies, then there is no point in it.

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Stop

RE:

"And how much would the Government have made if the database was freely accessible and companies using it made extra profits and paid a third of that in extra tax. It's such a short-sighted approach (but then, it's government)."

To be honest, I strongly doubt it'd be £1.6 million, but I remain to be convinced if anyone has actual data.

Ultimately if this data becomes free then the taxpayer will have to bail Royal Mail out for an extra £1.6 million every year. The question is would this make the taxpayer £1.6m+ in extra revenue? And yes, since they demand changes it is up to those who call for the info to be freed to demonstrate it.

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FAIL

Oh noes!

I have a database of my customers addresses. Including postcode.

I shall delete it at once, and find another way of contacting them other than mail....

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Flame

Oh crap!

I've got an address book sitting on the side at home, im done for if royal mail find out!

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Pirate

Use the free UK postcode DB

Why don't companies just use the Wikileaks full UK postcode database? It must be legit cos it's free on the Internet.

http://wikileaks.org/wiki/UK_government_database_of_all_1,841,177_post_codes_together_with_precise_geographic_coordinates_and_other_information,_8_Jul_2009

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@My alter Ego (not my own, of course)

That is because in Germany postcodes aren't specific to one house / block of houses, but to a larger area. My hometown of about 110k citizens has 4 postcodes (after the switch to the newer postcodes 1st July 1993, prior to that it was just one), other places more / less depending on size.

And, compared to the system here, or at least Royal Fail's execution of it, it works perfectly well.

I never had a letter in my mailbox for a different name/street/post code.

The amount of times I have received a letter here for a completely different post code / city but same street, or also same street / city with slightly different post code went so high, I stopped counting after a few months.

Generally I'm in favour of privatising Royal Fail. I absolutely hate them, caused me enough troubles already. Still, at least having some fun out of it, when I think that some of the mail they've stocked up in piles now due to their strikes smell like dead locusts which I never received for my pet. Bunch of Twats

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Stop

Oh the drama

To be fair Royal Mail was privatised, we can't expect former public companies to make a profit whilst demanding that they hand over anything that could make them money for free.

I believe it is much cheaper if you only want to locate a postcode region e.g. KT1, there are many databases that provide that for not much cash, but if you want to localise down to the full postcode then it costs more.

Oh and for the commenter who mentioned that local authorities should charge for the street numbering...you're actually not far from the truth, i think it was mentioned during negotations with royal mail when they tried to charge local councils for address searches.

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