Legal action by the Royal Mail is stopping job seekers from using the internet to find jobs near their homes, it was claimed today.
Royal Mail has sent a "cease and desist" letter to Ernest Marples Ltd, the organisation that provides a post code API (application program interface) that allows other web sites to use post code searches.
Several sites have been hit. They include JobCentre ProPlus, which allows job hunters to find a job near where they live. Today its website carried the notice "JobcentreProPlus is currently experiencing technical difficulties because of ongoing legal action by Royal Mail. Our provider of postcode data, ernestmarples.com, has been taken offline because of legal action. Until we find an alternative source, JobcentreProPlus may return inconsistent results."
A Royal Mail spokesman said: " We have not asked anyone to close down a website. We have simply asked a third party to stop allowing unauthorised access to Royal Mail data, in contravention of our intellectual property rights."
Digital rights activist organisation Open Rights Group is campaigning for information developed with public money to be made freely available.
Executive director Jim Killock said it was outrageous that Royal Mail, which is cutting its staff, 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," he said. "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, not the other way round."
Killock said other services facing closure include Planning Alerts, which finds planning applications near your post code, and The Straight Choice, which details election leaflets and their claims by post code.
"An amicable solution to allow non-commercial use of post code data would be easy to create, via a key given only to non-profit organisations," he said.
The people behind ernestmarples.com are programmers Richard Pope and Harry Metcalfe. Metcalfe is also a member of the Open Rights Group's board. He has dissociated himself from the group's campaign on this issue.