A photo might be worth a thousand words, but using the wrong photo in your listing can cost you.
As the summer brings spectacular skies and natural light to the real estate market, we’d like to send a friendly reminder to agents and brokers to make sure that you own or properly license the photos used in your listings.
Copying photos from other listings, or taking them from the web, could lead to copyright claims and payment demands from the entities that own them. So far this year, we have seen a few disputes arise, and while they have been resolved amicably, you can avoid the hassle by taking extra care at the outset!
To ensure that you’re in the clear, you can hire a professional photographer. In fact, photographers that specialize in real estate will be more likely to understand your needs, as well as the practical and legal aspects of photo ownership, licensing, and use in the MLS and elsewhere. And if you engage a photographer that is new to the industry, NAR even provides sample agreements that you can use with them.
(Taking your own original photos, of course, is another way to ensure ownership and copyright is clear.)
It’s important to note that these issues extend beyond listing photos in the MLS. They apply to photos used on agent and broker websites, in promotional materials, and elsewhere. A simple rule of thumb? “If you don’t know where the photo came from, don’t use it.”
Photo Services Monitor and Enforce Copyright:
There is a whole industry built around acquiring and selling the rights to use images, and pursuing licensing fees under threat of legal action from anyone who uses them without permission. They use sophisticated tools that allow them to scour the web, and even scan older versions of websites that are no longer online.
According to NAR, one such firm reports that 7 percent of the cases it pursues on behalf of clients are related to real estate.
And under copyright law, the company or person who displays the photo or image on their website (regardless of who put it there) is the one liable for unauthorized use. This means the situation for real estate agents gets exponentially more complicated if an unlicensed photo is uploaded to the MLS with a listing, and is then displayed on dozens of other real estate websites.
Licensing and Copyright in the MLS Rules:
As subscribers to the MLS and users of the REsearch system, you are bound by the MLS Rules and Regulations. Section VII covers licensing and copyright, indemnifying HIS from claims of copyright infringement. This section also includes sample language that you can use when engaging a photographer to take listing photos.
Our rules document was last reviewed and updated by the HIS Board of Directors in June 2018, and is worth reviewing periodically:
- Who Owns Your Property Photos? (NAR)
- Focus on Listing Photo Copyright (REALTOR® AE Magazine)
- Copyright Essentials: Using Imagery (Getty Images)
- Take Your Own Photos and Avoid Legal Action (TREND)
We hope this periodic reminder helps you steer clear of the potential pitfalls of listing photo ownership and licensing. If you still have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!