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:

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.

Its a great shame that UK postcode data isn’t made open for other to re-use. Many argue that there would be significant social and economic benefits to letting other build on the UK postcode database.

Tom Steinberg, Director of mySociety, said to the Guardian:

The economic study for the Power of Information review suggested that some of these big charged-for data sets are a drain on the economy. There’s a need for reform, really. There’s no point in locking these things up if they’re not achieving their goal.

Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, said:

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.

Post codes were created with public money, so they need to be used for the widest public benefit. Ernest Marples have been showing how this can be done. Their ideas need to be legalised for non-profit use, not shut down.

Intellectual Property rules need to work for society, and not the other way round.

Tom Watson MP, who was keynote at our 5th Communia Workshop in London earlier this year, wrote:

These services are free to UK citizens and they make their lives easier, yet because of the rigidity of Royal Mail, they’re going to closed down. It’s silly. And yet another example of how a big institution fails the innovation test when it comes to the Internet.