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MLS Restricts Copyrighted Images

August 6th, 2009

On July 15, 2009 the NWMLS (the MLS used in the greater Seattle area) revised the language in it’s rule that governs the use of images. The new language is as follows:

Rule 192(g) has been revised to state that members may not submit third party copyrighted photographs to NWMLS, if the use of the photograph by NWMLS and its members would violate the copyright. In addition, the Rule now provides that a listing member shall indemnify NWMLS and its members against any claims from third parties arising from the use of copyrighted photographs. Please note that even if the listing member has permission to use a copyrighted photograph(s), NWMLS has not been granted that same permission. NWMLS certainly does not have permission to distribute a copyrighted photograph(s) to its members, who will republish the photograph on thousands of public websites. Accordingly, NWMLS must remove all copyrighted photograph(s) from the database and the listing member may be subject to disciplinary actions.

On the one hand, it’s a positive thing to make the language clearer that it’s the agent’s (listing member) responsibility to make sure that the photographer’s rights are not going to be violated by republishing the photographs to “thousands of public websites”. But on the other hand, they sent out an e-mail notice to all NWMLS agents with the title “Copyrighted Images Prohibited” and the way this is worded will tend to scare agents away from using a professional photographer that says their images are copyrighted.

I wish they’d just said some thing like, “agents are responsible for making sure that the agent and the NWMLS have a license from the photographer to use the images to distribute to public sites for the purpose of marketing the listed home”.

I think this is another example of what I’ve recommended before. It is in the best interest of real estate photographers to have a current copy of their local MLS photo rules so that if the photographer is going to retain copyright they can make sure their photo licensing terms are consistent with the MLS rules. Don’t leave it to agents to understand this, because most won’t. You don’t want to put your client in a bind because your licensing doesn’t take into account of the specific rules of the local MLS. Also, you don’t want to be surprised by what the MLS does with your photos.

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7 Responses to “MLS Restricts Copyrighted Images”

  • Wow, that is going to cause a lot of people some very big headaches. A few years ago Chicago MLS forced the branding of virtual tours to be removed. It resulted in us reprocessing thousands of tours. You have to love the MLS’s commitment to making rules as they go.

  • I too have mixed feelings about this new rule. What a way to scare realtors!

  • Ian, the branding of virtual tours is a conflict of interest with the broker-reciprocity policy which helps agents offer other agents and brokerage’s listings on their web sites. For example…if a prudential agent is sitting in his office with a buyer and shows a listing that belongs to a Century 21 agent, the Century 21 agent info is removed to help the prudential agent. It is beneficial to agents.

    The same rule applies in NY

  • Plain english is not in lawyers vocabulary. They put in big words and such technical language that you need a thesaurus, a degree in astrophysics and a lawyers decoder ring to decipher what they mean. I guess that’s why they get paid the big bucks, so you have to have them interpret their documents for you.

  • “Accordingly, NWMLS must remove all copyrighted photograph(s) from the database and the listing member may be subject to disciplinary actions.”

    Um, don’t all images have an implicit copyright unless they’re specifically released to public domain? I see where they’re trying to go with this … but they missed their target.

  • It seems like they were trying to protect themselve, but didn’t have all the information they needed. This is a case were we as professional photographers need to work with an MLS board to establish policy that allow for the use of photos and protects our rights. I also believe that real estate photographers as a group need to address how tightly they control the use of thier images.

  • Laws and rules are so important and lawyers get paid so much, but for all their training and all the money they make lawyers cannot seem to be able to learn to write clearly. There ought to be a law….

    Patrick is right. It is in the interest of lawyers to write badly since that guarantees they will always have work.

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