The Battle to Protect Free Images on Real Estate Listings

October 28, 2017

The old saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words is as true to the real estate industry. Images are some of the most significant tools that realtors use in advertising in the United States and all over the world. That is why the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is seeking to get legal protection for their free images from listings.

Free imagesA well-shot photo is better than a well-written description. In fact, potential buyers will first look at how the property looks like before they find out other details such as price and location. With an increase in cases where listing data and free images are being scrapped and used in an unauthorized manner, the NAR is looking to have a robust legal intervention to end this. The battle has now handled by the United States Copyright Office, and the NAR has a list of recommendations to that effect.

The proposal states that the real estate industry should get necessary legal help to deal with all those who scrape off free images from listing websites. Listing photos, according to NAR’s research, are the basis of advertising.

A tricky situation with free images

Even though the NAR is very passionate and determined by its high demands, the issue at hand is a tricky legal situation and not a walk in the park. The licensing of listing photos and copyright ownership is a complicated matter. The complexity goes down further to the hard fact that different users can own free images from listings in different ways and the rights of ownership can still legally shared between a broker and listing agent or a photographer and an agent. It is difficult to determine who has “more” legal rights to the same photos.

Because of this tricky legal situation, the NAR is seeking to get the Copyright Office to make it a bit easier for owners to register their listing photos and have legal protection. It is essential to simplify the application requirements so that the process can be fast and smooth. For instance, when owners apply to protect large groups of free images, the NAR suggests listing them with an author of the group of photos. As a result, it should be easier to enforce the copyright rules and regulations.

The case is now with them, Court of the Copyright Office and it is up to them to gather the inputs and suggestions of other individuals and organizations from across the United States.

A notable and timely build-up to protect free images

All these bold efforts against illegal and malicious scrappers are happening in conjunction with other legal battles won by The NAR and other key partners in the real estate industry. A few months back, on July 17, 2015, after eight years of litigation and three appeals, that realtors were given a landmark and likely win in a patent infringement case.

In what appeared to be a significant ruling, the circuit court of appeals upheld a previous lower court ruling that had granted summary judgment to the NAR, Move Inc. and National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). According to the decision, the groups did not violate patents on their websites that deal with property display. The suite was about two issues. One patent described technology for locating available real estate for sale or rent from the database of properties and the second license covered technology that allows zooming to show features on the digital map.

All this is taking place at such a time when patent cases are becoming a pressing and disturbing issue in the broader real estate industry. Some realtors across the country have received threatening demand letters, and others have faced lawsuits charging them with alleged infringement of standard business tools on their websites such as drop-down menus, free images, and search alert functions.

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