Yes, You Can Protect Listings

February 1, 2008

The decision by a federal appeals court to prohibit a competitor for copying listings from a yacht brokerage database may have implications for real estate.

In the case, BUC International had developed an online database of used boats, called BUCNET. Participants who signed a licensing agreement could view copyrighted listings of brokers, the public couldn’t.

The Florida Yacht Brokers Association and other associations entered into a contract with an MLS vendor to create and operate another centralized MLS of yachts. Many BUCNET members sent listings to the new International Yacht Council MLS, often copying them from BUCNET. IYC employees also copied listings. BUCNET was able to tell when its listings had been copied because its listings included a marker.

BUC brought suit against IYC and its vendor, charging copyright infringement. After a jury found in favor of BUC, the trial court entered a permanent injunction prohibiting IYC and the vendor from copying “descriptive elements” from BUCNET’s listings.

The defendants argued that BUCNET was not entitled to copyright protection because the compilation of listings lacked the originality required for copyright protection. The court disagreed with this contention, stating that BUC’s compilation was entitled to copyright protection because it organized existing information into a unique format. In addition, said the court, the small number of listings altered by the brokers did not affect BUC’s copyright.

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