Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.
MLSs See Gains in Copyright Cases
Federal court decisions on the unauthorized use of listing data have brought positive results for REALTORS®
July 12, 2013
As efforts heat up to curb the unauthorized use of MLS data, recent court decisions have yielded good news for REALTORS®. In late May, the Key West Association of REALTORS® scored a major victory when a federal district court judge in Florida awarded $2.7 million to KWAR in its action against businessman Robert Allen, whose KeyWestMLS.com and other Web sites were found to be using the association’s listing data in violation of copyright laws. The large fine was attention- getting, sending a clear message on behalf of copyright -owners, Justice Lawrence King said in his May 22 decision.
“Awarding a lesser amount of damages would not serve the purpose of the Copyright Act in deterrence of further wrongful conduct by Defendant,” the judge wrote. “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.”
Similar cases are pending in U.S. District Courts in Maryland and Minnesota. These cases both involve American Home Realty Network, which operates NeighborCity.com. The company was sued last year by Metropolitan Regional Information Systems for posting mid-Atlantic MLS listing data on its Web site without authorization and by the Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota on similar grounds.
In mid-June, a judge dealt a blow to AHRN. After the cases were filed, AHRN tried to turn the tables on the two MLSs, filing counterclaims alleging that the MLSs violated antitrust and other laws to drive the company out of business. In the Maryland case, AHRN also named the National Association of REALTORS® as a defendant, asserting that NAR participated in the alleged conspiracy to discourage participation with AHRN. The court dismissed all seven counts in AHRN’s counterclaims.
While court watchers await rulings in these latest cases, the developments are thus far encouraging for MLSs seeking to protect their listing data on the Internet.