MP urges Royal Mail rethink on postcode site takedown
Petition demands free database for non-profits
Tom Watson MP has fired off a letter of complaint to the Royal Mail Group, in which he grumbles that the UK postal service’s legal action against a two-man operated postcode lookup site was a "heavy handed" and "deeply regrettable" move.
The Labour politician and ex-government minister for digital engagement asked the Royal Mail’s chief Adam Crozier to reconsider the firm’s decision to instruct lawyers to threaten ErnestMarples.com with legal action.
As we reported earlier this week, the North London-based UK postcode lookup service was slapped with a cease and desist letter from Royal Mail’s lawyers on 2 October that forced it to close down the website.
Before then, the Ernest Marples site had been providing web outfits with an API to power their sites that helped people search for a wide variety of local information such as tracking down the nearest decent greasy caff or finding out about nearby planning applications.
"I take the position that the postcode file and the data set of physical coordinates that go with it are a national asset that should be freely available to any UK citizen," Watson said.
The MP for West Bromwich East told Crozier that he planned to raise the matter in the House of Commons next week.
Ernest Marples directors Richard Pope and Harry Metcalf have also written to the Royal Mail lawyers, urging a debate about use of the contentious Postcode Address File (PAF) database, which currently requires companies and individuals to fork out annual licensing fees.
"There is a significant need for postcode data to be made available on more practical terms. We would very much like to open a dialogue with your client in order to see if a productive and mutually beneficial way forward can be found," wrote Pope and Metcalf.
Meanwhile, campaigners have started a online petition asking the PM, Gordon Brown, to "encourage the Royal Mail to offer a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites." It has so far garnered a little over 500 signatures. ®
who owns the data
Is the issue that this company is using the Royal Mail database without paying or just using the information? If company X manually created a private database which matched postcodes to localities is that not a valid use of publicly available information? Its like the RM is saying that they own the rights to GKUGYG-98479 is they decided to use this as a postcode for Norwich. It's just letters and numbers. Put it in a collated form, which has involved effort and labour - access to that I can understand being licensed. It seems company X did exactly that but licensing their API. Did their API do nothing but search the RM database or was it a database independant of the RM one?
I guess this is a bit like a traffic authority saying you can't use the names of streets in a commercial or free product, because its their IP and they therefore own the names.
Kind of answered my own question, from the Ernest Maples web site
" Where's the data coming from?
We're not saying. But, just to be clear: we don't hold a copy of the postcode database ourselves, neither in complete form nor as part of a cache."
"Taxpayer did not pay for the production of the postal code system."
Yes they did. It was a government department called the GPO. Nowadays it is a statutory corporation in public ownership, which means anything you pay for it's services is a tax, just like the TV licence.
Taxpayer did not pay for the production of the postal code system. It was paid for by the Royal Mail from revenue received from its business. The state just happens to own the Royal Mail.
The Royal Mail is not the NHS. The Royal Mail is a state owned business that is meant to be self-funding. The NHS is paid for directly from tax revenues (there is a very small part of its income from other sources).