Safeguarding Copyrighted Listing Contents

Protecting copyrighted content has always been a concern in the real estate industry. With the development of technology and change in nature of real estate marketing and advertising, listing contents are easily accessible to third parties nowadays. Brokers and agents must have a firm grasp of their rights in order to safeguard their copyrighted materials from being abused by others.

Vesting Copyrights

Listing content can include photographs, virtual tours, drone videos, floor plans and listing descriptions of a real property. Copyrights are vested at the moment the listing content is created and established. For instance, when a photographer takes a shot of a photo or shoots a video, the photographer automatically obtains the copyright in that photo or video. Likewise, when an agent creates a new property listing in the MLS system, a copyright is created in the listing when the listing descriptions are inputted. If the original copyright owner assigns the ownership of copyrights in the content he or she creates to a broker or MLS, then the assignee, whether the broker or MLS, owns the copyrights in the content. As a result, a chain of the copyright has been created.

NeighborCity Copyright Infringement Case

Copyright owners should perfect the chain of copyrights in their listing content, because they face the risk of significant losses when their listing contents are misused by others. For example, in the following case, North Carolina and Minnesota MLS and HomeServices of America filed lawsuit against NeighborCity.com, a real estate website owned by American Home Realty Network, Inc. Two subsidiaries of HomeServices of America, Preferred Carolinas Realty and Edina Realty, each alleged that NeighborCity infringed their copyrights by copying and posting copyrighted materials, specifically photographs of real properties, without their consent. The parties later reached a settlement and a part of the resolution was that American Home Realty Network agreed to no longer copy or use any listing photographs belonging to HomeServices’ subsidiaries and affiliates.

Broker’s Duty

Brokers and MLS have a duty to their clients to vigorously protect listing content. The NAR has adopted the MLS rule on listing content stating that, “prior to submitting a listing to the MLS, the listing broker should own, or have the authority to license all listing content (e.g., photographs, images, graphics, audio and video recordings, virtual tours, drawings, descriptions, remarks, narratives, pricing information, and other details or information related to listed property) to be published in the MLS compilation of listing information.” Likewise to the NeighborCity case, brokers and agents should perfect their copyright chain and prevent their copyrights from being exploited and abused by unauthorized parties.