Key West Association Wins Federal Copyright Case

May 30, 2013

A federal district court in Florida has awarded $2.7 million to the Key West Association of REALTORS® Inc. in its copyright infringement action against Robert Allen. In finding for the association and imposing such a large award, the court sent a strong message on behalf of copyright owners, said Attorney Steven Robert Kozlowski, who represented KWAR in the case.

KWAR brought the copyright infringement action against Allen in 2011. Since at least 2007, KWAR said, Allen has been operating Web sites, including, made up almost entirely of content, data, and images reproduced from KWAR’s MLS.

“Rob Allen was not a member of the association and has never had a license to copy or display the content of the Association MLS database,” said KWAR General Counsel Wayne LaRue Smith in a statement released Wednesday. “The Association attempted to get Mr. Allen to cease and desist from his infringing activities in 2010, but he ignored the requests. At that point the association was determined to hold Mr. Allen accountable.”

The case closely parallels those being litigated between American Home Realty Network, which operates the Neighborcity Web site, and two large regional MLSs — Metropolitan Regional Information Systems in the mid-Atlantic region and Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota (dba NorthStar MLS).

Those cases also involve allegations of unauthorized copying of MLS listings for display on a Web site operated by the defendant, as well as the use of those listings to generate buyer referrals, said National Association of REALTORS® General Counsel Laurie Janik. “The main difference is that the defendant in the Florida case did not even show up to contest the allegations, whereas the cases being brought against [AHRN] are being vigorously defended,” Janik said.

In the Florida decision, “the court’s imposition of the maximum amount of statutory damages . . . was warranted by the evidence and for the purposes of future deterrence,” Kozlowski said.

“Awarding a lesser amount of damages would not serve the purpose of the Copyright Act in deterrence of further wrongful conduct by Defendant,” Justice James Lawrence King said in his May 22 decision. “Absent the maximum statutory award of damages, future potential infringers of Plaintiff's MLS copyrights will only see the potential benefit of high commissions from ill-gotten leads. As such, the maximum statutory damage amount is necessitated to deter the future conduct of Defendant Allen and others.”

— Stacey Moncrieff, REALTOR® Magazine