What Are The Rights Of Agents and Homeowners Regarding Real Estate Photos Use On Social Media?

October 27th, 2014

PhotoSharingLynn asked the following question concerning agents and homeowners rights when it comes to posting photo you’ve taken for clients on social media:

I have been doing RE photography for little over a year so my biggest concern is to get my name out there to increase my client list.  Social media such as Facebook, Twitter etc seem like a good way right now to do that, but my concern is client/agent/my rights.  Do you know what the rights of the agent and homeowner are when it comes to displaying (your work) the photos on your business Facebook page, Twitter, website, etc…

Two examples of a situation I’m in right now, first one is a basic int/ext and twilight shoot on a 900k home, after I delivered them to the agent I asked if it was ok to post on my pages and she said “NO” that the homeowners do not want the sale public, thats its being sold via the local RE agencies (?).  She said we would have to ask the homeowner first… this legally true or is just RE etiquette?
The second, is a Twilight shoot, FREE for an ex-family member who is a top producing agent.  (while I was on location I did speak with the homeowner who new that these shoots were to promote the sale of their home by the agent) I delivered 15 photos on this $1.3 M home and asked the next day if I could post on my pages, and he won’t respond… do I have the right to post without his ok?

I’m not a lawyerHere is my opinion on this question:
  • First of all, sure, you have the legal right to post the photos you shoot for real estate on social media. All you have to do is follow a few real estate photographers or videographers on Twitter, Facebook or YouTube to see that its being done regularly and quite extensively. And typically most agents and homeowners want all the exposure to their property they can get.
  • However, your legal right is not the only issue to consider. Deferring to the wishes of your clients and their homeowner clients is important to keeping happy customers. Trading some social media exposure for upset clients is not a good trade off!
  • Believe it or not there are homeowners out there that are sensitive about having the interior of their home made public. This means they may freak out at the thought of having photos of the interior of their home posted on Facebook. And there are agents out there that want to be control of every aspect of marketing their listings. Not honoring either of these situations will likely lead to loosing customers.

Has anyone else had the kind of problems that Lynn is having?


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21 Responses to “What Are The Rights Of Agents and Homeowners Regarding Real Estate Photos Use On Social Media?”

  • @ Lynn, unless you have signed away the copyright to the photos you have made, you can post them wherever you like subject only to any contractual limits you have agreed to. Posting your photos on FaceBook grants FB a non-exclusive, transferable, perpetual and worldwide license to those images. Use throw away “behind the scenes” photos or link back to photos on your website without posting the picture on FB.

    I agree with Larry that what’s legal and what might anger a client can be two different things. No matter what, don’t ever post images that show safes, security equipment/features or anything of exceptional value. The last thing you want to hear is that an image you made let thieves know exactly where an expensive Picasso painting was or where a safe was located (and it’s brand/model).

    I’m puzzled about how one goes about running a marketing campaign on Twitter.

  • Generally, most people don’t mind because as soon as it is listed on MLS, it is plastered all over the internet anyway through syndication. Good advice not to use your good stuff on social media due to their power grab policies. Save that for your personal web site(s).

    Two routine questions I ask the home owner – anything in particular they want me to focus on, and anything they DON’T want photographed. Also, in addition to not photographing the obvious, like gun safes, some individuals, such as judges and law enforcement have restricted, unpublished addresses that don’t even show in tax records. With them, even diplomas and award certificates get blurred without my asking. One pointed out the view that initially sold him on the home so I concentrated on that (and entered on POM contest). Another had a handicapped child with a very “active, stimulating” room including his name in gigantic letters over the bed – which got photoshopped out to a bare wall. Another had a huge family portrait over the sofa which I re-framed with a landscape of their home country that blended well with the other décor.

  • I think, signed property release by homeowner should solve all problems. It is private property and territory, and there is risk of claim in case the owner doesn’t like public exposure.

  • I agree with the above statements that you have the right to post, but you don’t want to irritate your customers. Here are the guidelines I use: 1) Don’t post photos until the photos have become public on the MLS. 2) Don’t identify the property address – it’s not necessary for your marketing purposes.

  • We are one of the leading real estate sites in the mid-west. One of the major reasons that agents use us is to have the listing posted on the site. Yet we still see issues similar to Lynn’s first example. It is not uncommon for businesses to request the photos not be made available to the general public, but once in a while a home owners makes the same request.

    Many times a quick talk with the home owner can resolve their fears. We tell them than faces in photos will be blurred or removed and that names on the walls will also be removed. However, sometimes there are legitimate concerns. Those concerns need to be respected.

  • For day to day work, (photos for MLS listings) I am curious of others use contracts and /or licensing agreements for every shoot, or have a blanket agreement with the agents office.

    I searched terms of use agreements for our local MLS and a few virtual tour companies and these terms included the photographers and homeowners rights to use the photos.
    However, some listings are private or “pocket listings,” and some photos are used by agencies solely for that agencies web and print publications and are not on the MLS. The agencies do not allow the photographer to use these photos for self promotion (a minefield for the photographer as this is not always made clear.) The work around for the photographer is to share the link to the agencies public postings of the publication.

    As others have said, its best to ask. I usually (when I don’t forget) send a quick email to the client before adding the work to my portfolio and sharing on social media.

  • @Larry Gray – Yes, those are a great set of questions to ask the homeowner!

    @Sergiy – Sure, a property release will solve this issue, but it is going to look and feel very formal and legal. A simple set of questions like Larry Gray suggests will usually do the job.

  • Nawww…… When I shoot RE, the Agent owns the pics. Way too much hassle to play the copyright game. Concerning Copyrights….. it’s as if I painted a picture, and sold it for $50.00. Two months or ten years later, I’m famous, and that same painting is sold for a million… cest la vie. If the RE Agent is doing all the marketing of my photo’s, they deserve all the credit, after the payment for the initial shoot. If I’m authorized by the homeowner, via the agent to shoot the interior….. it’s known that the photo’s will be posted to a MLS. My disclaimer to the RE Agent, is that my photo’s are not anyone’s intellectual property, and that I will used the photos to promote my portfolio. I’m an Agent / Sub, of the RE Agent….. Contract Law, it’s all good. Don’t micro-manage the politics of the shoot. Just shoot…. and get better at it 😉

  • So far all of my photo’s have been put up on the MLS. I put them up as well to show the image quality to future customers, but do not put any info about the property such as address etc.

  • @Mike- I believe your comment is overflowing with sarcasm, but just in case you’re serious……
    Begin rant….Even in RE, the images have long term value. Just like the property, it is sold over and over and so can the marketing imagery in some cases. Keep your copyright! There’s really no effort to achieve this. You already own the copyright by default. In truth, you actually have to assert effort to assign your copyright to someone else. Educate yourself, then educate your clients. 99% of Realtors have no real need to own images and most of them know it. If you don’t want to put forth the effort to compose a simple licensing agreement, there are templates available to get you started. This is very much a business. If you don’t value your own work, you can’t expect anybody else to. If you don’t feel like your work is up to par yet or you only get to shoot low end properties at this point, then fake it til you make it. At the least, build a framework of professionalism that you operate under so when you start creating the best work and shooting the good stuff, your business foundation is sound. Your clients and colleagues will respect you and at the end of the day you will very likely get some “emailbox money” when you re-license YOUR images to another agent/ builder/ designer/ architect and in some areas Vacation Rental Management companies.

    One of my favorite calls is from clients asking for images I already have. Within 15 minutes, I upload to Dropbox while sending an invoice+licensing agreement, get PAID then send a link. And yes, I charge full price the second time too. Why? Because the images are just as valuable now as they were when I created them. They are marketing materials not some handyman work done by the hour. For me, this results in additional revenue of $15-20K per year. Not bad for a couple of key strokes and a simple copyright/ license statement. That of course….is if you like/need money… End rant

    In regards to homeowners/ agents not wanting images posted in certain places. I honor that even though I have the right use the images. They have their reasons that I may not understand from a marketing standpoint and I would hate to sabotage the relationship for a few “likes” or more FB friends. Full disclosure: my last post on FB was 5 years ago :\

  • Travis is dead-on on every point and I could not agree more.

    If you don’t care about what you produce, or think that what you produce isn’t worth protecting, I think you leave a lot of money on the table.

    It doesn’t matter whether it is RE, or you are shooting for Architectural Digest, it is your vision and your talent that is creating something that has value. To simply say, that you don’t care about happens to that work, leaves others to feel the same way about the work you produce.

    Okay, so if you are a run-and-gun real estate shooter who spends little time on your images, fine do what you want. But if you do good work, it has value – beyond just today. I’ve got 20 and 30 year old images that still generate income. Like for Travis, my re-licensing and syndication, contributes a substantial income stream. This income alone, easily pays for new equipment every 2-3 years, and even a new location truck now and then.

    Not only do I retain copyright on every single image, I do register that copyright. Sure it takes a little time, but it’s just one additional step in our post-production process. You can file them electronically, and it’s not a big deal, and frankly – it’s part of running a professional business.

    On the question about posting to social media; I would never publish, or post to social media, any image that my client, or my client’s client, do not wish out in public, regardless of their reason for not wanting so. Much of what we do, is based on trust. I would never want my clients to think that I’d have anything but their best interest at heart. So I would never do anything that could cause them to question that. Luckily for me, many of my clients have been with me for 10+ years.

    Speaking of social media, if you are posting images, take a careful look at what that particular sites user terms are, as many will claim ownership to anything that you post on their site. Whether they can actually do so legally, is questionable. Still, they are not all offering all this “free” publishing stuff for no reason. They make money on what you contribute to their site. Are they selling your images, or using them for other content? I don’t think we really know yet. But we do know, that they are collecting them by the billions and have plans on monetizing content one way or another now or in the future. So register your copyright.

    Finally, if you still want to post, remember to add a watermark to your images! Like “© 2014 Your Name, all rights reserved”. Why? It may actually drive traffic/business to you of course, but also when somebody (and they will) decides to “steal” the image and remove the copyright – you’ll have more of a case for willful copyright infringement, or at the very least you can bill them for un-licensed use.

    I realize that we are all very busy-busy-busy. But, if you are so busy that there simply isn’t enough time for you to care about the value of your work, I submit, that you are either very good, and should as such value and protect your work, as others obviously think highly of it, or they wouldn’t be swamping you with work to begin with. Or, you are simply the low price leader in your market. The latter will will only last as long as somebody else doesn’t charge even less -either way it will eventually put you in the poor house. If you are the former, I’d strongly suggest that you take care of the images you produce, as they can provide some good what I call mail-box money (licensing/royalty income).

    Somebody once told me, that if you get every shoot you bid on, you aren’t charging nearly enough.

    Just my 2-cents

  • George….Awesome advice…Awesome website.
    Fantastic images. Impactful visuals. Love it.
    Well done, indeed.

  • Travis and George;
    A huge thank you for your posts; very useful and on-target information! In my day-to-day busy work, I sometimes forget I am producing a product that has value well beyond the first use. Thank you for reminding me of that!

  • What a great thread! A few questions to our experienced photographers:

    I am sure we have all had push back from real estate agents on signed photo agreements. Seems its not so much the terms as much as it is taking the time to deal with one-more-thing, especially if they can successfully push back. Any suggestions to on how to overcome these objections?

    Do photographers who work regularly for the same brokers or agents have one blanket agreement, or do they obtain a signed agreement for each shoot?

    Do photographers include the specific right to license the photos to another real estate agent or broker? For example if company A loses the listing and you sell the photos to company B. (guess how I learned to ask this question , , , , )

    Virtual tour companies and other agencies have their own agreements between the relator, the photographer and the agency, and the ones I have read are not clear on ownership rights. Any suggestions how to protect your rights as the photographer if you accept work from an agency?

    This is no substitute for a contract, but is it worthwhile to put something like this in delivery emails? “dear agent, thank you for your order, the photos can be downloaded at 123easystreet/; as a gentle reminder when you download these photos you are agreeing to the following terms, “blah blah blah.”

    Thanks again!

  • Steve,

    First I need to preface this by saying that my answers here apply to Realtors, not commercial, or editorial clients. Before agreeing to take on a new Realtor client, I have a very straight forward conversation about how I work, what they can expect from me, etc. It’s much like an interview to determine if we are a good fit for each other. Usually we are, at times we are not. I have no problem politely declining to take on a new client, if I feel that we would not be a good mix for whatever reason.

    Part of that interview/conversation includes the fact that I will always retain the copyright, but will license the images to them to use as part of their promotional activities in selling that property (MLS, brochures, their website, advertising etc). That license is good for the duration of their listing agreement (including possible renewals etc). At times, there may be additional uses allowed depending on the client, but usually this all that they need. Specifically, the license prohibits them from sub-licensing, loan or otherwise share the images with any 3rd party. Only I (the photographer) can authorize any use by a 3rd party, including a possible subsequent Realtor that may get the listing upon expiration. In other words, the listing agent can not sell the pictures to the next agent (a couple tried a some years back). Those license terms accompany the images when delivered to the Realtor, and are also included in the invoice from us.

    Typically I do not re-license the same images to a agent getting a expired listing, that I’ve previously shot. Especially if I know that the two agents are direct competitors. While I’ve made a few exception over the years, it has always been for an existing client, and always with the knowledge of the previous listing agent. I avoid it, as it put’s you in the middle of a no-win situation in most cases.

    Having said all that, when shooting “significant”, iconic, or celebrity properties, I usually have a pretty good idea if the property is going to sell quickly, or if it’s may linger on the market because of price, unusual architecture/decor or circumstances, or other reasons that may play into it’s marketability. I handle those assignments in a completely different way. One of the things I try to do, is to essentially shoot the entire property in 2 distinctively different ways. I keep one of those shoots on the shelf, so should the property become re-listed within a relatively short time-frame, here is another set of images that are not the same looking images, as when it was listed previously. Why, go through all that extra work, you may ask? The answer comes from years of experience working with those type of properties, and their owners. While some of them may know who I am and like what I do and thus gives me free reign, access to those type of properties is often limited, and often made extra difficult by the “managers” of the celebrity property owner. I have in the past offered that second set of images to the new listing agent, but only at the same price that my original client paid to have the original shoot done. To the new agent, the benefits are instant images, less inconvenience to the home owner, faster to market. Then again, if time permits, I can go and shoot it again. There are homes that I’ve shoot 3 and 4 times over the past 12-12 years.

    Personally I do not require a written contract when working with a Realtor. I’m not against a contract, it’s just that I’ve worked with just about all of them for so many years, and because of close contact that we maintain, issues rarely occur. If one should, it gets resolved right away – one way or another. Then again, I take on very few new Realtor clients during a given year so there is nothing new in this for my clients.

    Shooting for a tour company or other photographic services company can come in different forms. While I never worked for anybody else as a photographer, I would imagine that there are two basic setups and they put image ownership in different camps. If you are salaried by a company to go out to their different clients to photograph, the images you shoot are most likely considered “work for hire”, and the company that pays your salary owns the images. If on the other hand, you are freelancing and they only pay you a fee for each assignment, you own the copyright – unless, you have signed a contract with them that states differently, like one that states that all assignments are to be considered work for hire. (Joel Rothman, if you are reading this and I’ve got this wrong, please jump in).

    I hope I answered most of your questions Steve.

  • @ Ken,

    Thank you so much for the very kind words.

  • George, for real estate photography, are you routinely a) obtaining property releases from the homeowners, and b) charging additional fees when clients want to restrict usage of your photos of the home for their exclusive use?

    By the way, while I don’t often relicense the same images from a listing to new listing agents when my clients haven’t sold the home, I have done that from time to time and my original clients have never had a problem with that. Furthermore, I derive a modest but not insignificant amount of additional income from that. However, I always check with my original clients to make sure that is okay with them; and, for such relicensing, I am normally charging the new clients at least the same amounts that I charged the original clients, for the relicensing.

    As for showing the photos on social media, George makes some good points about watching out for the terms of use of those sites. In any case, when it comes to photos that are being displayed publicly on the internet as well as in print ads, whether on the mls or not, I see no justification for the client to try to prohibit a photographer from using the photos in their portfolio and other marketing materials for their business. As far as pocket listings that are never marketed publicly, I would either charge extra for exclusive, restricted usage, or I would, with the agreement of the client, just produce basic quality scouting photos, on the assumption that only basic informational quality is needed for photos that will not be disseminated publicly, rather than high quality marketing photos intended to attract widespread attention. My basis for this is that the favorable rates that I charge real estate agents for high quality work are based upon my being able to use the resulting photos to promote and sustain my business. Since I am always working to improve and enhance my capabilities, I need to be able to continually refresh and update my portfolio.

  • @ Dave,

    I obtain property releases on about 40 percent of the RE shoots that I do. I usually obtain a release based on what the property is, and based on what the probability is of it being sought out for editorial coverage because of what the property is, or who it’s owners may be. Again, that applies to RE shoots.

    When shooting RE, short of any authorized/beneficial editorial use, the agent has exclusive use to the images for the duration of the listing agreement. I do not surcharge for this exclusivity as it is part of how I work with RE agents. In other words, while the agent has an active listing, or the property is on the market, I don’t license to other parties. Except, for interior designers, contractors, or others that may have been directly involved in the building project. That does happen at times, but has no negative impact on the marketing of the property by the agent, so I usually do permit such additional licensing.

  • @ everyone who responded to my questions….Thank you!
    All the input and advice has been amazing and very eye opening. I have been taking a lot of notes. Steve, Travis and George special thanks for the “gentle reminder” statement, blanket agreement with the agents office, looking into and understanding “user terms” on social media, watermarking even on social pages, having a second set on the shelf to name a few.
    I can’t tell you how valuable this site has been for me, and the fact that everyone contributes and shares allows for the “I’m not sure what to do/any advice” questions to be asked.
    Thank you everyone again!

  • What about the new homeowners rights? A realtor and her photographer may have obtained a permission from the previous owner. However, the new owner may not want all those photos of where they live floating and circulating the Internet into oblivion. What are the new homeowners rights and what is the RE and their crew (photography, virtual tours, etc…) legal obligations towards the privacy of the new homeowners who have not given permission for anyone to continue to list over the Internet photos of their property as the new homeowners???

  • Winnie,
    The short answer is that they have no rights whatsoever. Nor should they.

    I’ll assume that you’ve moved from one home to another at some point. Are you upset with the new homeowners for posting photos of their family etc. in their new home, online? Have you removed all of your family photos taken at your previous family home from all your social media accounts? Did you insist that the previous owners of your current home do the same?
    Of course not.

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