Zillow Ordered to Pay $8.3M in Copyright Case

February 13, 2017

Score one for the photographers. In a Seattle courtroom Friday, a federal jury ordered Zillow Group Inc. to pay $8.3 million in a copyright infringement lawsuit filed over the use of photographs on Zillow Digs.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by VHT Inc., a photography and image management services company that does business as VHT Studios. The suit claimed that Zillow displayed or saved images, produced by VHT for marketing purposes, to the Zillow Digs website. VHT says the use of the images violated its copyright. The Zillow Digs site features residential design, home improvement, and remodeling ideas.

The jury’s decision “protects the interests of real estate photographers and their clients,” says VHT CEO Brian Balduf. “We look forward to continuing to work with our team of nationwide photographers, as well as our industry counterparts, to create a rights management organization to ensure that all real estate photographs are managed properly and protected against unlicensed uses.”

Real estate practitioners that contract with a photography service should take notice, says Katherine Johnson, general counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®. “It is imperative that brokers and agents understand the rights they are getting from photographers and then giving to third parties like MLSs and portals.”

If you’re embarking on a new contract, these sample agreements drafted by NAR attorneys are a good place to start.

In December 2016, a judge dismissed VHT’s copyright claims that alleged Zillow also had used the images on its real estate listing site. And Zillow officials say the company will ask the court to reverse some portions of Friday’s verdict or request a new trial.

“We have persistently maintained our belief that this suit was without merit,” according to a statement attributed to Zillow on GeekWire. “While we are pleased that the majority of the original claims were dismissed in this case, we regret that the jury did not find for us completely on those that remained and will vigorously pursue all options to overturn their verdict. We take copyright protection and enforcement seriously and will continue to respect copyright permissions across our platforms.”

Source: “Zillow Ordered to Pay $8.3M in Copyright Lawsuit,” The Seattle Times (Feb. 10, 2017) and “Zillow Loses $8.3M Federal Copyright Lawsuit to its Digs Home Design Website,” GeekWire (Feb. 10, 2017)