Real estate photography copyright issues have lingered for years, with the chain of ownership allegedly violated at various points of publication. For years, agents have hired photographers to create listing photos, and some MLS systems’ terms of service include fine print that notes any uploads through their system grants them the copyright. Then, third party companies using the images claim copyright, brokers often claim copyright since they’ve paid for the images, and of course, homeowners could argue they own the images of their home. It’s messy.
Photographer Robert Stevens recently filed suit against CoreLogic for copyright infringement, arguing that they stripped critical metadata from images and sold them through a different product without permission or compensation.
The lawsuit notes, “CoreLogic knew or had reasonable grounds to know that its falsification, removal and/or alteration of copyright management information would induce, enable, facilitate or conceal copyright infringement of the photographic works of Plaintiff and the Class.”
Stripping out the metadata
Court documents state that when uploaded to a CoreLogic MLS product, the digital files contained metadata. This metadata is identifying information such as the name of the photographer or copyright owner, geolocation data, time of photo, camera settings, all of which can be used to identify the author or copyright owner of a photograph, or even the permissions granted to the owner (such as “all rights reserved”).
Stevens documents one specific photo he took, which he licensed to a Realtor who uploaded the image complete with metadata to the RAPB (Realtors’ Association of the Palm Beaches) through the CoreLogic MLS product. Stevens reportedly has no relationship with RAPB or CoreLogic and did not license either to alter copyright management information (the metadata information), yet shows that CoreLogic copied the image into its RealQuest database and sold access to the database without permission or compensation, falsely attributing copyright ownership of the photograph to CoreLogic, absent any metadata.
Houston Realtor, Tom Johnson said, “I have never understood how every website that displays listing photographs could claim to own the copyright and the send that listing content on to the next site that claims the copyright. It looks like the legal owners of the copyright have had enough.”
The suit seeks civil remedies, “including an injunction, impounding of any device or product involved” in violation, for “remedial modification or destruction, damages, costs, and attorney fees.”
Going up against the big dogs to fight for their value
CoreLogic says they represent 17 of the 20 top MLS organizations, and that their data includes more than 99 percent of U.S. property records, with over 3.3 billion property and financial records spanning over 40 years, including over two million active MLS property listings. Court documents state that “these [active] listings include photographs of real property created by Plaintiff and the Class.” In other words, we’re not talking about small potatoes here, and photographers’ work is valuable (and in many cases, protected by copyright).
The Plaintiff argues that homes sell better when real estate listing photos are created by professional photographers, citing a 2010 Redfin report, also noting that adding additional photos can increase the asking price of a listing. The valuable photographs at issue allegedly contain “copyright management information,” and alleges that CoreLogic is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“It is likely that many other real estate photographers in cities around the US where CoreLogic MLS software is used may have experienced damages similar to the current Plaintiff Robert Stevens,” said Photography For Real Estate’s Larry Lohrman.
Read the full lawsuit here:
Why Zillow didn’t get Austin Board of Realtors’ feed, but Trulia did
As the Austin Board of Realtors opens the spigot for Trulia under their new data standards, will Zillow be next?
As of May 7th, brokers in Austin will be able to opt-in to share their listings directly with Trulia, as part of the ink drying on a new direct data license with the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR). Although we opined that focusing on the minutiae surrounding listing data is looking into the wrong end of the telescope, this particular move is extremely relevant.
Why? First and foremost, ABoR has severed ties with ListHub, and that syndication agreement is nearing an end, so the association is balancing their next moves carefully and through highly engaged committees.
Second, Trulia is the first publisher to sign a data license agreement under ABoR’s new data integrity standards which are known to be quite stringent, pushing for listing data to be displayed accurately, responsibly, and ethically.
Third, smaller associations look to ABoR for direction, as this particular board tends to be progressive in nature, so this syndication agreement with Trulia could have a trickle down effect to other local associations.
Reactions from Trulia and ABoR
“We’re excited that Trulia has joined ABoR’s commitment to improving the quality of listing information available to Austin-area homebuyers and sellers,” said Lisa Messana, Chair of ABoR’s MLS Advisory Committee. “By leveraging ABoR’s data quality standards, this partnership with a top listing advertising portal will bring the broad exposure that home sellers desire and protect against homebuyer frustrations from poor data quality.”
“The Austin Board of REALTORS® has demonstrated leadership in the real estate industry by establishing standards that support timely, complete and accurate listings information,” said Alon Chaver, Trulia’s VP of Industry Services. “In addition to REALTOR® websites, homebuyers and sellers can now also trust that the Austin-area listings found on Trulia are accurate and up to date.”
Will ABoR syndicate to Zillow next?
The natural question is what steps ABoR will take next. If they syndicate to Trulia, won’t they syndicate to Zillow? As it stands now, it doesn’t look likely. Sources directly involved tell us that Zillow requested and was granted a meeting with the task force (comprised of members) and Board executives.
Sources describe the meeting as “bizarre.” The team from Zillow presented in an “arrogant” manner when asking for the full feed and were “confrontational” when they were asked about the possibility of removing For Sale By Owner listings so as not to be in violation of ABoR’s data integrity standards, and Zillow brashly said that would never happen.
Still asking for the feed, Zillow also rejected the removal of Zestimates in live sales, “rudely” saying that it was ABoR’s fault for not reporting sales data (missing the fact that Texas is a non-disclosure state, which has nothing to do with ABoR).
Further, Zillow wouldn’t budge on how listing agents are featured within listings, asserting that their current format (which visually promotes agents paying to advertise instead of the listing agent) will not be changed for Austin or any city.
Under current circumstances, it does not appear possible for the two entities to agree and join forces, especially given that multiple sources tell us that Zillow’s attitude is that ABoR needs them, and not the other way around.
Sources also tell us that they were confused by the surprise last minute meeting granted to Zillow, and confused as to why no video or audio setup was allowed at the meeting (which we’re told is abnormal).
Regardless, Zillow is persistent, so we suspect they will find other ways to obtain the data they’re seeking.
HAR to launch a Texas-wide real estate search site for consumers
HAR has long led the way in the real estate industry, now announcing they’ll be launching a state-wide consumer search site, inviting brokers to directly join in.
For anyone not familiar with the vast expanse that is the state of Texas, just driving from east to west on I-10 can take you 13 and a half hours, according to Microsoft Streets and Trips. The state offers 268,820 square miles of land and is home to some of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation, all in one state. It’s big. Really big.
The Houston Association of Realtors (HAR), led by Bob Hale, has set out to create a consumer facing website, featuring listings across the entire state, and they’re asking all Texas Realtors to display their listings on the new site, Homes and Realtors, another play on the HAR acronym.
According to their beta site, currently staged on blogs.har.com/ and being referred to as “HAR.com” (which is presently used as the homepage of the Houston Association of Realtors and the consumer-facing Houston MLS search portal), it is an “industry-friendly website that works to connect consumers with REALTORS®.”
They are rounding up brokers’ listings from across the state to be featured on the site, and 11 regional pages will feature listings hosted and promoted by HAR.com. The company says there will be no cost to display listings and leads are sent only to the listing agent and listing broker, and there will be no competing ads on the listings, both of which address the common complaint against third party sites who sell leads to and advertise for multiple agents, not necessarily the listing agent.
The site offers no FSBO listings, no re-syndication, it posts re-direct links, provides metrics, refreshes daily, and claims timely support and timely listing removal, again directly addressing common complaints against third party listing sites.
So how will they pull this all together?
If you’re imagining Bob Hale on a roadtrip across Texas with a clipboard marking off every broker, that’s not how it works. Although he and his team have and will spend a tremendous amount of time appealing directly to brokers, the key to this statewide portal is through ListHub, owned by Move, Inc. They say they are the first ListHub Publisher joining the network as a Real Estate Network (REN) Publisher, and will offer data accuracy by following the strict REN rules, available on the ListHub site. This means that brokers may opt to syndicate by check-marking a box in the backend of their ListHub account.
One source tells us that “the site is to be powered by Move, the ink is dry.” In the future, HAR.com will feature a “powered by Move” badge.
Luke Glass, VP & GM of ListHub clarifies, “The website is fully operated by Houston. There is no “powered by Move” banner on the site. We only deliver the listing data for those brokers who have opt-in.”
Glass added, “I think the confusion is because we are powering syndication/reporting for Houston brokers. A new product being rolled out for Houston brokers specifically is a new dashboard and reporting system to control and track their syndication (Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com, etc…). This new dashboard and reporting within Houston will be HAR branded with a “powered by ListHub” moniker. Totally separate deal from HAR becoming a destination for data.”
Currently, the beta site boasts HAR.com traffic, as it attracts millions of visitors each month, but the math is a little fuzzy, given that it is currently the Association’s site and a local portal. The traffic will surely grow as the listings grow to other cities, but it should be noted that the traffic claims don’t address the product of the future, rather of the past, both of which appear to have the same destination URL.
The timing is complex, because there is a movement gaining steam wherein independent brokers are pulling their listings out of all syndication, particularly in Austin – data that the HAR.com team needs. Time will tell how they will appeal to the brokers who have sworn off syndication and are rallying for others to follow suit.
Praise for HAR.com
Mark Willis, CEO of Keller Williams Realty said, “As the largest real estate franchise in Texas, we’re thrilled that our associates have this new opportunity to reach prospective homebuyers on HAR.com. We’re even more excited that Bob Hale and HAR are doing it right – ensuring that all leads go directly to the listing agent.”
Krisstina Wise, CEO of GoodLife Companies (which stopped syndicating to Trulia in 2012 for their sending leads on their listings elsewhere) noted, “I plan to add all our goodLife Realty listings to HAR.com as another place to expose our listings for our sellers, but that doesn’t require a third-party syndicator who doesn’t serve the agent, or the consumer for that matter. I especially love this because all of my listing calls will come back to me, the listing agent, so that I/we can offer the consumer the information they want on our sellers’ homes. This is what I call a win-win.”
This story was originally published on AGBeat on March 25, 2014.
Huntsville Area Association of Realtors shifts listing syndication strategy
HAAR has considered the best listing syndication strategy for their members, and have decided to make a major change.
As the real estate industry feels their way through the changing tides of Realtor sentiment toward third party syndication, brokers and real estate associations alike are making choices as to how they distribute real estate listings.
Recently, the Austin Board of Realtors cut the cord for direct syndication to ListHub, sparking another wave of industry discussion surrounding syndication.
Huntville Area Association of Realtors’ changes
But Austin isn’t alone. The Huntsville Area Association of Realtors reached out to us, expressing their process of changing their strategy as well.
Rhonda Ricketts, MLS Director at the Huntsville Area Association of Realtors (HAAR) explained that in February of this year, they formed a task force to examine the pros and cons of syndication, exploring what would be in the best interest of their association as a whole.
“After webinars and interviews with large brokerages that had already stepped away from syndication, a recommendation was presented to our Board of Directors (which was unanimously approved) to cease syndication through ListHub and to offer ‘MLS Direct Syndication.’ This occurred in June 2013 and ListHub was given a 90 day notice of our intent, which went into effect September 16th 2013.”
HAAR sending listings directly
Today, HAAR is in negotiations with the largest real estate search sites to sign their Third Party Data Access Agreement which is a combination of their existing MLS rules and several items adopted from the “Syndication Bill of Rights.”
Now, Bridge Interactive Group manages HAAR’s RETS (Real Estate Transaction Standard) data, which does not syndicate, rather allows Participants and Subscribers are able to opt in or opt out of a third party site, down to an agent level. Ricketts notes that when they identify misuse of data, they can immediately turn off the data until the site becomes compliant.
Kipp Cooper, CEO at HAAR and the North Alabama Multiple Listing Service acknowledges that some people support syndication, others oppose it, so their organization feels they have a fair middle ground. Cooper said, “In the early part of 2013 we formed a broad taskforce of agents and brokers from over 14 different firms and identified all of the various options. Finding none that suited our needs, we built the new model of MLS Direct Syndication™ with the help of our partner Bridge Interactive Group.”
“When we peeled away the issues of data security, stale data, and the inappropriate use of our data, we found that our data feed to ListHub was the conduit through which many of these undesirable results were made possible,” Cooper said.
While this is HAAR’s contention, we would assert that ListHub isn’t the bad guy here, as they’ve gone out of their way to add scorecards to every listing syndicator and encouraged brokers at every step to remain educated on the final destinations they offer for listing data, but either way, some final destinations remain questionable, regardless of the vehicle used to syndicate.
The HAAR rules third party aggregates must follow
Cooper outlines specific rules that their third party agreement, “Third party advertisers must prominently display the listing agent and firm on their site at no cost and add a link-back to the brokers listing on our member owned public facing site valleymls.com. They are also prohibited from re-syndicating our data beyond their controlled network, must refresh data every 48 hours (most pull data several times daily), follow our data trumping rules and must respond to MLS and/or Broker issues or corrections within 24 hours.”
In September, they announced Trulia as their first partner, followed immediately by Homes.com, adding more partners daily. Cooper says they will soon roll out a broker dashboard to provide analytics regarding where their listings are being viewed.
“So the bottom line is our members are very pleased with the changes we have made. As an association and regional MLS we are leading the way in in both protecting our members and their clients data and still offering a robust platform for them to syndicate their listings to reputable national sites for the maximum positive exposure of their listings.”
The shifting tides
While HAAR and North Alabama MLS have far fewer members than the Austin Board of Realtors, and their members chose alternate routes, they are both indicative of the continuing pendulum swinging in real estate.
Sources tell us that in Austin, the bigger real estate search sites are reaching out to the board to attempt a direct feed like HAAR, but Realtors have opined to us that they don’t think offering dozens of check yes/no boxes in every listing upload page changes much of anything, and that brokers being forced directly into the ListHub system or making decisions about their data on a case by case basis is best.
Neither HAAR or ABoR will influence a mass exodus from list syndication sites, but their strategies are based on membership task forces and decision, and both have stated they are not looking to influence others’ decisions, rather are doing what members feel is best for their local listing data.
This story was originally published on AGBeat on October 16, 2013.
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