December 29th, 2015
Eric in Southern California asked for the following:
I’ve been looking through the site for a basic simple explanation on copyrights and usage for real estate agents to understand. I’ve been a photographer for most of my life and doing real estate photos for about eight years and in working with several different agents in different areas I’ve found that some understand the copyright but most do not. No matter how I try and explain it or compare it to something familiar to them or even if they agree to a TOS that spells it out, I still hear, “oh, I didn’t think that meant I can’t give the shots to the architect or designer so they could use them, I already paid for them”.
Here is my explanation of photo usage rights for real estate agents:
- Photographers own the photos they take. So when you hire a real estate photographer to take photos of a real estate listing what you are paying for is a temporary LICENSE for one specific person (you) to USE those photos for a specific purpose (advertise your listing) for a specific length of time (the duration of your listing).
- Many real estate photographers expect to license the same photos they take for you to other parties. Perhaps the stager, the architect, an interior designer or even another listing agent that lists this same property next year. So don’t give photos that are licensed to you away to anyone without first consulting with the photographer that owns the copyright. These photographers will probably ask you to sign a license agreement, mostly so it is clear exactly how you are allowed to use the photos that are licensed to you.
- Some photographers may not discuss photo licensing with you. This may be either because they just haven’t taken the time or they don’t intend to relicense the photos. In any case, don’t assume the lack of a discussion about photo ownership means that you, the agent, own listing photos taken by a professional real estate photographer. You don’t. Always check with the photographer before giving listing photos taken for you by a professional photographer to anyone.
- Your MLS may claim that by uploading listing photos to the MLS site you (the agent) transfer ownership or copyright of the photos to the MLS. Court cases have shown this to be false. You (the agent) cannot transfer the copyright because you do not own the copyright. Copyright can only be transfered via a signed document. MLSs just want to protect themselves and their members and no one wants to spend the time and money to get MLSs to get them to fix their rules as long as they don’t violate the photographer’s copyright so everyone typically ignores the false MLS claims in the area of photo copyright.
Did I miss anything? Also, photographers if you like the explanation above, feel free to use it in your terms of service or just refer you clients to this page.