Royal Mail shut down useful community websites

Last month at conference, in two of our conference fringes, speakers highlighted useful online services set to revolutionise politics.

At our first fringe, “Campaigning after Rennard,” James Graham thought that TheStraightChoice (reviewed by LDV here), a website that allows members of the public to upload the leaflets they have received through their letterbox, had the potential to revolutionise politics. No more would politicos be able to put out close-to-the-knuckle material in relative obscurity. From now on, James argued, we’d all have to assume that at least one blogger would read our leaflet, and at least one journalist would read the blogger, and eventually, our campaigning infelicities would make a short hop to haunt us via front page local news.

Later in the week, at our “Beyond Twitter” fringe, we were very pleased to welcome Richard Pope to our platform to talk about the work he does as a programmer with MySociety. Quite by chance, it transpired that one of his side projects is indeed The Straight Choice. At the fringe meeting he confided that the website, and a number of similarly public spirited sites, were vulnerable to cease and desist notices. They all shared a post-code lookup service that hadn’t forked out the requisite money to Royal Mail PLC for permission to use the national post-code database.

Now Richard writes:

As you know I run TheStraightChoice. The website has been effectively shut down today, along with and various other sites, by the Royal Mail. They have served a cease-and-desist notice to the postcode lookup service (I help run EM) which powers both sites.

And he points us at a number of other websites with further information, including

A goodly number of them point out the particular folly of the Royal Mail simultaneously trying to shut down a service that helps you find jobs, whilst trying to make a sizeable number of their workforce redundant.

With postcodes so increasingly important to national life, it’s ridiculous that they are not public data that is, as a minimum, free to use for non-profit organisations.

I’m happy to extend t’Voice’s muscle to backing the campaign to bring back these useful websites. Tell all your friends.

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This entry was posted in News and Online politics.


  • Joe Taylor Condliffe 6th Oct '09 - 2:20am

    Bloody hell. Let us know what we can do, OK?

    A Free The Postcodes campaign, perhaps?

  • well said! I had no idea postcodes were not public info. I’ll see you at the barricades!

  • Isn’t the obvious campaign a boycott of using postcodes?

    If postcodes are private information then they are also a monopoly.

    For a start monopolies are bad in principle and geocoding of information is so important in so many areas that this should be public info made freely available to all.

  • I have no problem with the royal mail (which we all own through the government don’t forget) making money out of post code services to commercial compnies but I do think not for profit sites and certainly charities might be allowed free use of the service.

  • Good riddance to ‘the straight choice’ which deliberately smears the Liberal Democrats (and its predeccessors), by repeating the urban myth that Simon Hughes ran this as his slogan in the Bermondsey by-election. He didn’t and a site purporting to be of record should at least have a name which is neutral.

    Anyway there’s a much better site for election literature at Maybe they can be pursuaded to do a local leaflet section.

  • Quite Dan. I won’t upload anything I write up there

  • Andrew Turvey 6th Oct '09 - 11:56pm

    You can sign a petition on this subject at

  • Surely this is useful community websites make use of dodgy postcode data from license-violating company which gets told to stop it by the copyright holder? The headline is misleading and sensationalist.

    If websites like The Straight Choice had used a freely-available source of postcode data such as New Public Edition Maps, they wouldn’t have been shut down when Ernest Marples got caught red-handed violating the Royal Mail’s license.

    Even if you agree, as I do, that the RM data should be free, that doesn’t mean that RM don’t have the right to enforce their copyright.

  • Philip Hands 21st Oct '09 - 7:41pm

    There’s no need to rely on people who are happy to violate copyright to get hold of PostCodes gratis — there are free sources, such as Free The Postcode

    The only minor problem is that the database is not yet complete (and never will be absolutely complete, since it is chasing a moving target).

    Of course, in the case of the web sites you mention, it’s mostly a case of people putting their own post code in in order to find local information, and they know where they live already. That being the case, the site could respond to gaps in the data by saying “we’re not quite sure where that is — please point to your home using this (liberal copyright) map, and we’ll add you’re postcode to our map, and tell you what you need to be upset about in your area”.

    Pretty soon you’ll have all the postcodes where people have Internet.

    Cheers, Phil.

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