Since I’ve previously expressed my support for the proposals made by Professor Hargreaves in his review of intellectual property, I thought I’d take advantage of the government’s new e-petition system to create a petition in support of it. As it turns out, it may not be entirely necessary as, in the intervening period between me submitting the petition and it being published, the government announced that they are minded to adopt the proposals anyway. But, since the petition is now out there, it might as well run. And it’s probably still worth signing it if you are in favour of copyright reform, as you can be sure that there will be some very strong voices raised against it. It will make it easier for the government, and the Business Secretary in particular, to stand their ground if it can be shown that the public back change. So please take a moment to add your signature. The petition is here:
Many of you will probably remember the news story a while ago about the forced closure of ernestmarples.com, a website which provided a free postcode geolocation API that was, in turn, used by several other organisations running public service websites.
The reason it was shut down was because postcode geolocation data is the property of Royal Mail, who charge a fee for its use through the “Postzon” database.
Following the closure, a petition was created on the PM’s website for the release of a free postcode database to non-profit and community websites. This gathered 2,333 signatories, which is pretty good going. However, the government response, either deliberately or through simple misunderstanding, focussed solely on the Postcode Address File (or PAF) database – that is, the database of every single address in the UK. That’s not what ernestmarples.com was using, and it’s not what the petition was really about.
What ernestmarples.com was using was the data contained in what Royal Mail calls “Postzon“. That’s a list of postcodes together with geographic coordinates of the postcode centre and information about which council ward, etc, it belongs to. Despite not going down to the level of individual addresses, the Postzon data is still hugely useful for a lot of applications. Geocoding to a postcode is helpful for things like local weather reports, “show me my nearest…” applications, overview navigation, etc. All the stuff that was being provided by the earnestmarples.com API until they were shut down, basically.
I think it’s reasonable to make a distinction between Postzon and PAF, at least for now. The PAF is an absolutely huge dataset that changes very rapidly – it changes every time a house, office, factory, warehouse, shop etc is built or demolished – and hence costs a substantial amount to maintain. I think it’s broadly acceptable that the Post Office should be able to recoup the costs of maintaining it when making it available to other organisations. However, the Postzon data is essentially static, and only changes when a postcode changes. So the cost of keeping it updated is relatively minimal, and hence there’s really no justification for charging for it – especially since, unlike the PAF, it doesn’t actually play any role in the delivery of mail. Other countries, such as the US, make their equivalent of Postzon available for free.
In the light of the government’s unsatisfactory response to the previous petition prompted by the closure of ernestmarples.com, I’ve created a new one. I’ve tried to word it in such a way that the government can’t possibly avoid responding to the main point by waffling on about the PAF instead. If you think that basic postocode data should be free, then please sign this petition:
We need a minimum of 500 signatories to force a response from the government. So your signature counts.
If you want more information about why this matters, then I’d encourage you to have a look at these websites:
Incidentally, if you’re thinking that this petition isn’t necessary because the government has already made a commitment to releasing the postcode data, then think again. That promise is a very vague and woolly one, and still subject to various consultations. You can be sure that vested interests will be arguing strongly against the full release of Postzon or anything like it. And the fact that such proposals weren’t mentioned in their response to the previous petition is very telling. A significant aim of this petition is to remind the government that we, their electorate, are asking for this. There’s a lot of activity going on to try to persuade the government to rlease the Postzon data. This petition is just one small part of that.
Go on, sign now. You know it makes sense.
Back in the self-promotional mood, I’ve got a couple of new websites to release to an unsuspecting public today. For a long time, I’ve been thinking that the concept used for MotorwayServices.Info could well be suitable for some other kind of review/rate site, and it ocurred to me that railway stations might be a suitable subject. So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been tinkering away at RailwayStations.Info – not exactly an original name (all the best domains were already taken!), but it does what it says on the tin and I’m now reasonably happy with how it’s working. It’s not quite the same as the MSI website, mainly because there are already plenty of other websites that provide full listings of railway stations, so this time I’ve decided to make the primary focus something that is secondary on MSI – the photos. The aim is to get at least one photograph of every railway station in Britain – that may seem a bit of an anoraky kind of concept, but I have a feeling there are enough people out there for it to work. Have a look if you want – it’s at http://www.railwaystations.info.
On a totally different note, I was looking at the Prime Minister’s E-Petitions website the other day and having a laugh at some of those which totally failed to get any support whatsoever. I decided that some of these were too good – in the sense of being so bad that they’re good – to let them just get buried in the depths of the official site, so I’ve created A Minority of One as a place to display them and allow people to comment on them. Unlike RailwayStations.Info, this was just thrown together in an afternoon using WordPress as a CMS – the only custom code is a short script to add new petitions to the site. My favourite so far, in terms of demonstrating no clue at all, is a petition to ban peer to peer technology.