When it Comes to Photos, Know Before You Publish

November 13, 2015

It's second nature to include photos in your property listings. The more photos the better, right? But before you copy and paste those photos — or authorize anyone else to use them — you need to understand the basics of copyright law and apply your knowledge correctly when you contract with a photographer. 

“Displaying photos of properties online is now a vital part of the real estate professional’s marketing plan,"  said NAR Associate Counsel Chloe Hecht at Thursday's legal education seminar at the REALTORS® Conference and Expo in San Diego. "The Internet, however, makes copyright infringement easy,” because content available online can easily be taken, used, and distributed without authorization. 

Real estate professionals need to consider that the rights to use a photo are linked to multiple factors, including who took the photo and under what terms, Hecht said. “Property listing photos are taken by different people with different roles in the transaction, and the rights to use those photos are transferred in different ways,” she said. “The result is a fractured landscape of authorship and conveyance." 

Hecht pointed to a pair of ongoing lawsuits to illustrate the perils of using photos without nailing down the copyright particulars in advance. In one case, Zillow is fighting a suit brought by VHT Inc., which alleges that Zillow has photos on its Digs home-design website that VHT says it owns. 

In the other case, a Texas real estate broker and professional photographer is embroiled in a dispute with online real estate brokerage Redfin, both participants in the same Texas multiple listing service. The suit brings up whether the Digital Millennium Copyright Act protects website operators like Redfin, which hosts material posted by third parties. It also focuses on the ramifications of using a “share” button without getting permission from the originator of the material.

For guidance on how to capture your copyright, including sample agreements, visit realtor.org/capture.

— REALTOR® Magazine Daily News