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Ernest Marples Postcodes has been threatened by the Royal Mail

On Friday the 2nd October we received correspondence from the Royal Mail demanding that we close this site down (see below). One of the directors of Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd has also been threatened personally.

We are not in a position to mount an effective legal challenge against the Royal Mail’s demands and therefore have closed the API effective immediately.

We understand that this will cause harm and considerable inconvenience to the many people who are using or intend to use the API to power socially useful tools, such as HealthWhere, and For this, we apologise unreservedly.

In respect of these letters, we would be very grateful for any advice that anyone can offer:




We hope that at some point in the future this service may be able to continue to operate, but we’ve no idea when, or indeed if, that may happen.


  1. Marcus Povey wrote:

    Once again the crown charter holds back innovation in the UK.

    Sorry to hear you’re being shut down, and it is a real shame you don’t have the cash to get your day in court as this really needs to be discussed.

    Best of luck in the future.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Terence Eden wrote:


    FWIW I’ve found the Yahoo API to be more accurate than, say, Google for Postcode to Long/Lat.

    So the call will return a fairly close approximation.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 2:35 pm | Permalink
  3. Harry wrote:

    Yup — Yahoo’s not bad. If the rate limits aren’t a problem then it works well.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Google is 100% accurate if you use the Google AJAX Search API, rather than the Google Maps API.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink
  5. Malky wrote:

    Personally, I think this sucks,

    perhaps everyone should rather than raise a petition, we should all spam (sorry write) to these lawyers and the bosses of the Royal mail – even if it is just to cause them annoyance.

    As marcus says, sorry you don’t have the cash to defend and he rightly points out “the crown charter holds back innovation in the UK.”

    Good luck for the future Harry.


    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Harry wrote:

    “perhaps everyone should rather than raise a petition, we should all spam (sorry write) to these lawyers and the bosses of the Royal mail – even if it is just to cause them annoyance.”

    I don’t think that’s a terribly good idea! But you might want to bring the matter to your MP’s attention…

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:31 pm | Permalink
  7. Richard E wrote:

    Well, they are assuming that you have unauthorised access to their database, whereas I assumed you were simply trawling publicly published sources. If I tell you my postcode, or publish it on my website, you are not using the sacred database if you pick it up and put it on your site. Thus no case.

    However, as usual, you’re guilty until proven innocent in cases like this and proving innocence costs money.

    Good luck guys.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  8. scrumpyjack wrote:

    How come we don’t have to pay to use our postcode… or even know our postcode for that matter? What about when someone gives us their postcode to post to them… you know like Royal Mail keeps banging on about!

    I like Richard E’s idea… let’s offer our postcodes as they seem to be our, no rights restricted (and i have signed no contract with Royal Mail), property… that or stop putting postcodes on our mail!

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  9. @scrumpyjack – that’s entirely the idea behind and .

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  10. Bill Greer wrote:

    i would recommend working with Open Street Maps or our open sources geocoder ( you can add your own base data to geocode to, therefore the open source community can add to and improve the results as mroe people get involved. we’ve had good pick up in the US, but trying to improve overseas.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  11. simplehunter wrote:

    Why don’t you produce a suitable response letter covering the main points and circulate it? I for one would be happy to send them a personalised copy – using a different mail distributor.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:11 pm | Permalink
  12. Mark Heseltine wrote:

    IANAL but AIUI it comes down to the origin of the data. If the data originate from the post office then they own it and unless you can show it’s been released under a license that permits its re-use I expect they have you…that said, I think this is complex bollox that this data is not freely available for everyone.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink
  13. Wayne Keenan wrote:

    how about going the ‘crowd sourced’ route, similar to how Google hoovers up Mobile base station id’s with phone GPS co-rds for Mobile Google Maps location.

    Not too sure how it would work; especially making it easy for people to send their postcode and their phones GPS co-ords.
    Perhaps a ‘convenience’ iPhone/Symbian/Nokia WRT app, bit too niche?

    It would take a while to build the DB :(

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  14. Matt Mower wrote:

    I just wanted to ask. Quoting from the 2nd page of the latter:

    “Given the serious nature of your actions and the losses our client is experiencing…”

    What losses are they referring to?


    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm | Permalink
  15. Wayne Keenan wrote:

    ignore my previous post by visting here:

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 4:40 pm | Permalink
  16. k price wrote:

    can we sue them for our lost post ???

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 6:41 pm | Permalink
  17. Sam T wrote:

    Is it worth asking why the legality of such a site wasn’t checked out before it was live? (if you’re rehashing their data etc)

    The fact is isn’t right is different, kinda surprised it wasn’t open under the Governments new “open IT” etc policies.

    Monday, October 5, 2009 at 8:12 pm | Permalink
  18. bob wrote:

    IANAL but have client experience in IP legal stuff.

    1: If they want to know how your doing it and you dont have access to the database then its worth mentioning to them that they can purchase the IP in your work but that as its commercially confidential they can spin.

    2: onto the second letter, reasonable basis for you to feel harrassment, alarm and distress and the law firm have failed to disclose who is dealing with the matter and the letter is effectively an anonymous threat. Could be worth a chat with the plod about the harrassment act as your a Ltd company entity and the tone of the letter is extremely threatening.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  19. Ian Tresman wrote:

    In the USA, data that is funded by the taxpayers, is free. That’s why pictures and data from NASA and other government agencies, are copyright free.

    I helped pay for the UK postcode data, along with all other British taxpayers. I wasn’t asked whether data funded by me, could be stolen from me.

    I wonder whose side a jury of taxpayers would be on.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 1:13 pm | Permalink
  20. Tom wrote:

    I’d very much recommend looking up the articles regarding postcodes on wikileaks.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 2:13 pm | Permalink
  21. John Turner wrote:

    What a completely absurd situation. It’s the Royal Mail who insist that we use (for their benefit) postcodes. Yet here they are stifling their use.

    The Royal Mail really has lost its corporate grip on reality. It’s failure to innovate in a timely manner during the rise of e-mail, arrogantly sitting back and raking in tax-payer subsidy whilst even failing to perform as a monopoly really says it all about this sad shower of Sh1T.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink
  22. Mike Gifford wrote:

    This information should be available to a country’s citizens for free.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  23. Harry wrote:


    We’ve been using FreeThePostcode since we started. We’d look for a postcode in its data, and only check elsewhere if it wasn’t found.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  24. revinkevin wrote:

    Their is a petition on the Number10 site about this

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 7:33 pm | Permalink
  25. the inernet wrote:

    CMS Cameron McKenna, the royal mail’s apparent legal representatives and advisors in this action, offer a number of online services, presumably to promote their primary business, including newsletters, rss feeds and ‘webinars’, that could easily be claimed to contain information fitting the description of ‘extensive intellectual property’ belonging to wronged third parties. It would be intriguing to see if they considered it in their best interests to continue doing business with the royal mail if they were to find themselves in receipt of a fairly steady stream of cease and desist letters as contrived and bereft of detail as the one they sent to . In fact if solicitors representing just 10% of the people reading this were to send such letters, it would easily be enough to make them seriously reconsider their current clientelle, food for thought no ?

    Also, pay particular attention to the fifth paragraph of the first letter, “Although you claim not to possess a copy of the Database, you are still extracting information from the Database”, it would also be intruiguing to know , despite the data provided by undoubtedly being near-identical to that in the post office database, how precisely CMS Cameron McKenna would go about proving that the Royal Mail database was in fact the source of the data provided by, it seems rather doubtful that they could.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Permalink
  26. Leigh wrote:

    You’ve made the BBC site:

    Congratulations on raising awarness of the issue guys!

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  27. I’ve started a petition on this on the Number 10 website, not sure how much good it’ll do, but it’s worth a punt!

    Please sign, tell your friends and spread the word!

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 8:50 pm | Permalink
  28. john smith wrote:

    does this mean other database which use postcode should also be paying royalmail?
    like tv license? lol and other such dvla
    and other Govt. databases which use postcodes.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 5:41 am | Permalink
  29. Mo wrote:

    After reading about this on, going to the original story on the Register and ending up here, it’s still a bit confusing. In the US “codes” are zip codes and anyone could list them on the net. It’s not clear here as to why anyone could make someone from the UK remove your “zip codes” if that is indeed what they really are. Does the UK government “own” or somehow possess the “intellectual property” of your codes? Explaining this sure would put this whole thing in context to people outside the UK. Is there a specific law that covers this sort of thing in the UK?

    Hell, send the list here and it will get published. What can the UK government do if it gets published off shore? Sue the webmaster? I’d take that chance. It sure would make my web site famous.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  30. Steven Mcd wrote:

    They forget that the post office and all their info belongs to us. They have not yet been sold to some Private Limited use Company to stuff Our letter boxes with even more crap we did not solicite. Support this site and the striking Post Workers from the arrogant Bastards

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink
  31. Chris McKee wrote:

    @mo Technically Post Codes are the intellectual property of the UK Postal Service. Which like most UK Citizen paid research, development and data requires some sort of licence to acquire.

    In the US tax-paid for research and data is freely available and often with US systems is facilitated for greatly on the web.

    We may as well just nationalise the damned post office again and add it to open-gov.

    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink
  32. Will Tinsdeall wrote:


    Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink
  33. Darryl C wrote:

    What a stupid short-sighted action. The collection or creation of postcode data is paid for by the public purse for goodness sake! There should surely be a class of license for not-for-profit social enterprises. I am going to write to my MP about it – any specific suggestions what I should ask him to do that would be helpful?

    Saturday, October 10, 2009 at 9:10 am | Permalink
  34. wendy.grimsdale@ntlw wrote:

    Surely this database is the intellectual property of Royal Mail therefore it stands to reason that there should be some kind of licence or cost to access, after all Royal Mail is responsible for keeping the database updated; you can’t just expect to access it for free!

    Sunday, October 11, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  35. Ian Tresman wrote:

    Wendy, the Royal Mail is a state-owned company funded by the tax payer. If anything, they should pay us a licence. But I’m happy to waive the payment in order to be able to MY database for free. See also:

    Monday, October 12, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink
  36. James Lee wrote:

    “does this mean other database which use postcode should also be paying royalmail?
    like tv license? lol and other such dvla
    and other Govt. databases which use postcodes.”

    I am sure they will be paying some sort of fee to access the database.

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

15 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Open Rights Group | Tom Watson MP on Monday, October 5, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    [...] Mail today sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Ernest Marples Ltd, the organisation providing a post code API allowing social projects to use post code [...]

  2. Ernest Marples: An elegy « Mash the State on Monday, October 5, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    [...] I refer, of course, not to the erstwhile postmaster general and transport minister who retired to the grave in 1978 but to the eponymous website which has been crushed beneath the Royal Mail’s clunking fist. [...]

  3. Postcodes and the Crown charter | Marcus Povey on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    [...] Ernest Marples announced in their blog that they were shutting down their service in the face of a legal challenge from Royal Mail, who pretty much accused them of stealing their database. Although the Ernest Marples guys were a [...]

  4. Ernest Marples And Free Data | Delib Blog on Tuesday, October 6, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    [...] this news (via Lib Dem Voice, itself via my local councillor’s facebook) seems a real tragedy. Sites [...]

  5. [...] Ernest Maples, a free service providing postcode data which we blogged about in July has recently been taken down due to legal action from the Royal Mail. Harry Metcalfe, one of the directors of the project, writes: [...]

  6. GoodGNUs » Blog Archive » Free Our Data: UK postcodes on Wednesday, October 7, 2009 at 10:46 am

    [...] at Talk About Local (see post below) was the legal action taken by Royal Mail to force to take down its extremely useful site converting postcodes to geographical [...]

  7. Free Our Postcodes – Terence Eden's Blog on Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    [...] A few days ago, the Post Office – in their infinite wisdom – set their legal dogs on those running Ernest Marples. [...]

  8. Royal Fail postcodes « GeekLawyer's Blog on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    [...] is a bit late to this story. Royal Fail has just stamped out the very use­ful ser­vice from that was pro­vid­ing free post­code data to a [...]

  9. cloudsourced » Cracking the Postcode on Tuesday, October 20, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    [...] the Royal Mail responded with legal threats and poor old Ernest was exiled to Monaco. In the even more predictable furore that followed, we had [...]

  10. [...]… a few seconds ago from PeopleBrowsr [...]

  11. Royal Fail postcodes | Think Law on Wednesday, November 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    [...] is a bit late to this story. Royal Fail has just stamped out the very useful service from that was providing free postcode data to a number of [...]

  12. The postcode stranglehold and hyperlocals « Shona Ghosh on Saturday, November 28, 2009 at 2:40 pm

    [...] entrepreneurs like those behind Ernest Marples Ltd., can’t use postcode data without getting nasty copyright infringement notifications from Royal Mail. Not having the means to challenge Royal Mail, Ernest Marples Ltd has ceased to [...]

  13. Way To Go, Ernest Marples! UK to Free Postal Code Database on Friday, December 11, 2009 at 8:36 am

    [...] previously charged at least 1000 pounds ($1600 USD) per year for access to the data. In October it forced to shut down the API. The legal action appears to be triggered by a database leak that seems unrelated to the API, which [...]

  14. Freeing public data « blog on Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    [...] petition was started after Royal Mail sent a “cease and desist” letter to Ernest Marples Ltd, the organisation providing a post code API allowing social projects to use post code [...]

  15. [...] dataset, which lists the location of all postcodes in England, Wales and Scotland. This was clearly a very important dataset because of the way postcode geography drives many services and activities in the UK. Before the [...]