How Many Real Estate Photographers Register Their Photos And Have A Licensing Agreement?

March 10th, 2016

WaterMarkedRob in the Boston area asked the following:

I’ve been shooting real estate now for about 1 1/2 years. Fast forward and about 400 shoots later and thousands of images, I have processed all of these images with a faint watermark image followed by the copyright symbol (see example to the right). The MLS in MA has not objected nor have the agents. However, all my collegues (competitors) do not do the same. They do not watermark nor copyright their images. There are number of exceptional real estate photographers who are very established and have done this line of work 3, 4, 5 times as many years as I have and to my knowledge, no watermark image. Should I continue watermarking my images?

Yes, absolutely, I think you should continue to watermark your images. If you care about relicensing your images it’s a subtle reminder to agents and others that you are defending your copyright.

Very likely, the reason others in your area aren’t doing the same is that they just don’t want to bother. I think that many real estate shooters just don’t want to put in the time and effort it takes to make clear their licensing terms to their clients and relicense their listing photos. Despite the fact that every time we talk about copyright and photo licensing we always have many commenters promote copyright and relicensing their images, my guess that a large percentage of real estate photographers don’t bother. This is probably why agents typically know so little about the subject.

Recently, I had a reader pose the question “How many PFRE readers pay attention to photo licensing?” The following poll is designed to answer that question:

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15 Responses to “How Many Real Estate Photographers Register Their Photos And Have A Licensing Agreement?”

  • I don’t, but do have requests from other agents/ agencies to use photos. I charge a fee of around 50% of the original shooting price to send them those shots.
    You have certainly made me think about copyright as it is so simple to put in a watermark.

  • I tried watermarking my photos for the local MLS and the agent ended up getting a FINE $! It was because no branding is allowed in any way, shape or form in the Image. I would love to watermark so people can recognize my name time and time again and also I can find out who’s stealing my images and reusing them on their listings. WATERMARK if you can!!

  • It is a good idea but rarely, if ever done, locally when copyrights are allowed by rule. First, as illustrated with the faint line at the bottom, too easy to remove with a simple crop. Additionally, copyright is assumed and the designation on the photo is not required by law and putting it there may tend to detract from that reality with it’s removal.

    Second, the MLS imposes their watermark (low/medium opacity) in the upper third area of every photo submitted. They did this explicitly to deter unauthorized re-use. To include yours would have 2 watermarks on the photo which may become distracting. Authorization for watermark is noted as the sole exception in the prohibition section. Would love to add a tag line, something like “For Realtors who Care About Their Clients” but messages are prohibited. That would be awesome as it stands out and raises consumer awareness while giving a positive message.

    About the only time I use a copyright watermark – big and bold – is for event photography with online ordering. Obviously, not on the print/delivery product, but on the previewing screen. While right click download is blocked, the watermark prevents previewing on a computer and using an iPhone to click a picture with the logic “good enough for me.”

  • I think registering every photo I take would be a useless time-consuming procedure and to be honest what is the point of doing that? Does it make your photos look better? No, I am a photographer, not a clerk (with all respect to all clerks out there), so I don’t really bother doing so. I worked for so many estate agents and property marketing companies in UK and I never heard anyone telling me about licensing agreement or getting my photos registered.

  • Just a quick question: what do you call registering? I’m from France and I don’t think we have something like that.

  • Larry, the way you have written your article is confusing. Copyright works differently in different countries. I believe that, in all countries that are signatories to the Berne Convention, the photographer owns the copyright to his or her photos from the moment he or she takes them, but not all of these countries require registration of the photos in order to have full legal recourse with respect to copyright infringements. The US does require this.

  • Larry, Trend MLS (Philadelphia, PA) prohibits watermarking of any kind. They will remove water marked photos. They aren’t a photographer friendly organization.

  • @Olivier – What I mean by registering is registering the photos with your government copyright office or agency. Typically you have to pay something and file some document(s) and send them a copy of the photos. As @David Eichler points out photographers own the copyright without registering with their government copyright office. In the US attorneys won’t typically take legal action unless the photos are registered so that’s the main benefit of registration.

  • @Drew – yes, there’s no consistent policy among MLS regarding watermarking.

  • “In the US attorneys won’t typically take legal action unless the photos are registered so that’s the main benefit of registration.”

    Larry, that is still not quite the full story. In the US, photos must be registered with the US Copyright Office in order to be able to sue for copyright infringement in Federal court, and a Federal court is the only court in which hears such cases, and that is why an attorney might decline to take on a copyright infringement case if the photos are not registered.

    If a client has used your photos in ways that are outside of your license-usage terms, you might have recourse to small claims court in the US for breach of contract, rather than copyright infringement, which does not require registration of the photos.

  • It mostly comes down to educating the client. Many realtors assume that they are paying for images outright, and delivery of images means they now own the copyright. Just educate them about copyright law (can be a 30 second conversation), and they’ll get the point.

    I doubt there are many agents out there who are purposely skirting copyrights to re-use images for other purposes. They just don’t know any better unless we educate them.

    Personally, I’d probably only bother registering images that make for strong stock (neighborhood parks, points of interest, etc) that can be made useful to any realtor, or grabbed off an online image search by the unscrupulous.

  • “They just don’t know any better unless we educate them.”

    In the US, the National Association of Realtors provides information about copyright to its members. Also, I believe that most of the major brokerages provide information about this to their agents as well. So, it is my guess that a substantial percentage of agents are actually aware of copyright law to some degree at least, whether they will admit it or not.

    I think the problem lies more with photographers who are either not aware of copyright law or simply do not have good business skills.

  • As they say, “ignorance of the law excuses not”. But I still have a blanket agreement for all my clients stating they acknowledge that I retain full copyright of all images provided to them. It ensures that ignorance is no excuse.

  • Watermarking has nothing to do with Copyright. In the US, it has not been required since 1972 to place any Copyright notice on images.

    Registering images is very easy for unpublished images and only slightly harder for images that have been published. Images registered within 90 days of first publication will enjoy full protection. Images can be registered en masse with published/unpublished as the dividing line so one can register thousands of images at a time for one fee each. It doesn’t make any sense to select images for registration. If you have a folder of images you made for a piece of property, register the whole lot as published even if you have only delivered 25 to a customer.

    Registration has three parts. 1) a form describing the work and author. 2) payment. 3) an upload of the images being registered.

    The first part takes about 20-30 mins the first time but your information can be saved as a template so the next time, you just click one button to fill in the form. After doing a couple of registrations, the process only take 10 minutes or less. The payment is just like buying anything online. You are taken to a payment site where you pay the fee. The image upload takes a minute, but if you are using LightRoom, you can make an export action to create small .jpgs for the “deposit”. Zip the files up into logical, titled folders like “REPhotos201603” and upload them at the proper page. The files don’t need to be very large. Just big enough to give a good view of the photo.

    All of the above is for the US. I’m not familiar with how other country’s registration systems work. Registrations in the US can be made by anybody in the world. If you are being infringed by US entities, it might be easier to pursue with a US registration. Ask your attorney.

    Any tutorials that show registration with paper forms are hopelessly outdated. It can still be done, but costs more and can take a year to receive your official paperwork.

  • If your images are pirated by a Realtor, there’s a fairly quick and geerally effective way to get the Realtor to cease using them.

    It’s a violation of the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics, Standard of Practice 12-10 (5) to present “content developed by others without either attribution or without permission.”

    The Illinois Real Estate License Act has a number of provisions that can be interpreted to make copyright infringement grounds for disciplinary action by the licensing authority.

    Making a firm’s managing broker aware of the infringement, and the possible filing of an ethics complaint with the local board, or a complaint with the licensing authorities, has worked well for me.

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