Do You Sign Your Local MLS’s License Agreement?

December 18th, 2017

Travis in Central Washington says:

I am a real estate photographer in central Washington and was recently given NWMLS Form 13B to sign (Photographers License Agreement with NWMLS and its members).

In looking the document over, the biggest concern I have is in the license section, #2, where the NWMLS states: “Photographer grants NWMLS the full-paid, nonexclusive, perpetual and worldwide license and right to use and sublicense the photographs, which license shall include, among other things: the right to copy the whole or part of any photograph via and medium and by whatever means, including distortion, alteration, cropping, or manipulation of the whole or any part of the photograph; the right to create any derivative work of the photograph…”

Has this been addressed here before? I’d love to hear what other photographers think of signing a document like this. I know another photographer in the area who has an office that has blacklisted him unless he signs.

Yes, we talked about this in 2012 when the NWMLS first started using Form 13. As licensing agreements go, NWMLS Form 13B is pretty standard. It is very similar to the terms of service people agree to when they post photos to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. My sense is that the majority of real estate photographers in the Seattle area do not sign Form 13B.

Here are several things to consider when you are deciding whether or not you are going to sign an agreement like this:

  1. Photographers are not required to sign this form.
  2. The purpose of this agreement is to protect agents and the MLS from legal action resulting from questionable actions that other follow-on sites (like Zillow) take with photos.
  3. As Travis states, there are some listing agents and offices in the Seattle area that will not hire photographers that refuse to sign Form 13B.
  4. One alternative would be to include Form 13B into your own license agreement so the interests of the NWMLS, the listing agent, and the photographer are all covered by your license agreement.
  5. Some MLSs in the US promote transferring all photo rights either to the listing agent or the MLS. Just last week, a reader in California sent me a transfer of copyright agreement that the California Association of Realtors is about to release. This is a more radical approach to solving the same issues that NWMLS Form 13B solves.

Have you ever been asked to sign an MLS license agreement? Do you sign it?

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16 Responses to “Do You Sign Your Local MLS’s License Agreement?”

  • Bottom line, I don’t say no, I just say how much it will cost them.

  • Flat out, NO, I won’t be signing any form like the 13B. The California Association of Realtors can put out whatever they like and I won’t be signing it either. I doubt that will impact me at all. Fannie Mae has named a national company as the official photo company for all FM listings and I still get hired to make images of those homes since they don’t have anybody to service the area I am in. Agents and brokers are willing to buck the system if it’s in their best interest. CAR or NWMLS could get in trouble if they start mandating that members only use certain service providers. It might be an anti-trust violation. So, there is no teeth in the “request”.

    The NWMLS is asking for all of the rights you possess with your copyright. The only thing you have left is the ability to use the images yourself, but if the MLS can resell your images with no further payment to you, they will be diminishing your ability to make any further income from your images. Instant stock agency with no inventory cost.

    If you are giving your customers good service and a license that covers their reasonable uses, you will lose almost no good customers to these sorts of rights grabs. I believe it was Coldwell Banker that has tried on at least two occasions to get their franchisees to have photographers sign an unlimited license agreement that would allow the company to use and resell images. That would mean zero sales for anybody that used to get hired to create images for CB and local offices could repurpose any image for their own advertising. All of the best photographers opted not to sign away their rights and the push faded away and things went back to normal.

  • I have never seen such a document from MLS, nor would I ever sign an agreement that permits the MLS to sub-license/sell my images unless they compensate me for it, and here is why:

    First, MLS is not my customer, the realtor is. When I shoot for realtors, it is at a significantly discounted rate as opposed my normal commercial rate. I offer this for a couple of reasons; one because their use of the images are for a limited time, and limited scope.

    If MLS thinks that they are going to blacklist photographers among realtors, to force them to relinquish their copyrights, I think they will be very disappointed not only in State jurisdiction, but in Federal Court in cases of racketeering and coercion.

    I would strongly advise all photographers to take a long hard think on this. If you agree to this, all your work will essentially be “work for hire”, not your work. If you don’t care about that, respectfully, you are not a “photographer”, but somebody who simply uses a camera to pay your bills.

    I do know who my first call will be to tomorrow; CBR’s ex President who is a client of mine!

    My 2 cents

  • Rather than saying “no” to a client, I am going to have a separate price list for full rights photos. If the client needs/wants full ownership of the photos, then the price will be higher. Then they can decide how much they care about having that form signed.

  • Really the big problem with the contact is that it doesn’t expire. A simple addition to have the agreement expire with the listing would resolve the major issues. There would need to be some non-public retention allowed, but that would be minor. It doesn’t ask for the copyright to be transferred, so the photographer can still relicense or sell the image.

    As one of only a handful of photographers here that also runs a major real estate listing site I will say that most of what is being requested is needed to reasonably run a website. You have to make copies and derivative works for a website to run in a reasonable manner. That also means that the photos will be cropped, distorted and manipulated in various manors.

    A majority of the photographers here provide photos to the agent where the agents rightfully expect to be able to use those photos to advertise the property. A huge portion of that advertising is the MLS system. That means the photos will be displayed on agency sites and sites like and Zillow. It also means that they must have relicensing rights. There is just no other way for them to be able to run the MLS system.

    We should fight if they try to force us to give up the copyrights, but we should also make sure that our license agreement allow for use on services like the MLS system and agent websites. Otherwise, our photos have very little use.

  • No I would never sign such a document. Another reason why I post very few of my business photographs on social media sites. And when I do, I use the “Legacy” photo size reduction tool in Photoshop to make the photos so small, that they are not very useful for subsequent use. I am with George and the others here emphatically.

  • Okay, so here is the response from C.A.R.

    “The use of the form is voluntary and I sincerely doubt it will be widely adopted by the membership. Realtors don’t generally embrace new forms!
    Other than being mentioned as part of the new forms available in this release (there are two releases a year where we Issues regions or create new forms) there are no plans to campaign for the use of the form”

    So the good news is that it is not mandatory and C.A.R are not planning on pushing their members to insist that photographers sign it. Personally, I do not relinquish copyright, and would not agree to the terms of this “agreement” if a realtor presented it without a significant increase in fees.

  • As Larry mentions, such terms are standard with many social media platforms and other platforms on the Web where our clients use our photos. Also, are you aware that ISPs such as GoDaddy have such terms as well? In short, these kinds of terms seem to have become endemic on the Internet. I am not sure that just talking to one brokerage head, as George suggests, is nearly enough to counter and reverse this trend. And this is not only an issue for real estate photographers. It is a concern for all photographers whose photos appear on the Web.

  • When the form first showed up here in Seattle some years ago, I contacted a copyright attorney and worked with him to revise the document to be fair to both me and to the MLS. Then I went to the MLS guy in charge of that part of the biz and offered to work with him. He offered to help me get the form right for all, then did no follow up with me. In the end I stopped trying to work with him or the MLS to fix it.

    The form from the NWMLS as it is written is not equitable to the photographer. One part I remember was going to hold me responsible for ALL legal defense of the copyright and the rights of the MLS, ALL FOREVER WORLDWIDE. Just insane. The copyright attorney laughed at their document. Called it a farce. He left one phrase intact in the revised version. He said it was a great example of an attorney (the MLS attorney) getting paid to develop the worst possible one sided agreement he could possibly develop. And, it leaves the the lowest paid guy in the mix, me, the photographer, holding the bag for everything perceived or real that goes wrong with the listing photo license. Really sad that the realtors are apparently so uninterested that they do not even read the document before asking the photographer to sign it. If they did read it, they would never show it to us. It is really really bad. No excuse by the realtor holds water if it is that they did not read it or did not have time. To me, it is just another way for the realtor to say to me ‘I do not care about you and I am not looking out for you’. My professional full time busy realtors did not ask me to sign it and they never will. Because they are professional and this document is not. And, I do know I am just a contractor, but, I have become an integrated part of the marketing team for most of my realtors, not just another pretty face. Therefore, it is important that they look out for me just as I look out for them.

    If anyone thinks the MLS is an entity that has a ‘they’ and that ‘they’ are unknown and unreachable, think again. Our MLS here in Seattle, King County, is owned and run by the realtor members. If the realtor makes excuses to me about the MLS, I remind them in a nice way that they ARE the MLS and if they want this or that fixed to go get it fixed. I have no sympathy for realtors who complain they are being forced to use the form by the MLS, since they are not being forced to do anything. The MLS does not require the form, and if they don’t like the internal policy at their own office, they can switch offices. If they don’t like the MLS, fix it or drop out. These are supposed adults trying to run roughshod over contractors about a legal issue. Absolutely they get no quarter from me.

    Lastly, not sure when it happens, but, once a year a group of copyright and media rights attorneys in Seattle get together and donate blocks of time for artists of any type to come for advice. That is how I could afford to have the copyright attorney help me. I could not have paid his day rate, in the end I paid about $20 per hour and it was a donation.

  • I’ve been asked a few times to sign these and have pointed out to the agents why I felt it was grossly unfair. There’s no way I will sign that form. I appreciate the responses above and the efforts to resist such a horrible document. Paul Gjording – any chance you could find and post the group of attorneys for others? What a fantastic service!! The WLA (Washington Lawyers for the Arts) put on regular seminars that are often well worth the time, but I haven’t seen advice time donations-for-donations as you mentioned.

  • Ah yes, NWMLS. Such a wonderful organization. Cutting edge – sorta like the Titanic.

    That form’s been mentioned by a couple of my clients. I laughed, they laughed. Good humor is important.

  • Lee, can not find for sure as it was some time back. Pretty sure I was an ASMP member at the time and it was through them. I am pretty sure the lawyers were from WLA that you mentioned. I looked on ASMP site for this coming year. No event like that set up. Call WLA?

  • Thank you Paul! I’ve been a member of ASMP and am currently in PPA. I’ll check with them as well as WLA.

  • No way, no how!

  • Not in this lifetime. It seems rather odd in some respects, regarding the agents, that some of these “forms” ask the agents to “give away” something (rights) that is simply not theirs to give.

  • @Phil – The important issue here is that past polls here have shown that the MAJORITY of real estate photographers don’t relicense photos and do in fact give away their rights. All those of you speaking up against this “give away” practice are the vocal MINORITY.

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