It's pretty clear that the majority of listing agents believe that they own the photos real estate photographers shoot for their listings. Here is some evidence:
- The majority of real estate photographers don't even discuss the subject of photo licensing with their listing agent clients. Because of this, most agents have never heard of the concept of photo licensing. They just think paying the photographer makes the photos their property.
- The majority of real estate photographers don't have a license agreement that they get their clients to agree to. See this poll from last year. This poll shows that 53% of PFRE readers don't use a photo licensing agreement.
- Recently, a Realtor/photographer on Bainbridge, Island (near Seattle) discussed the subject of photo licensing at an office meeting of 80 agents. None of the agents had ever heard of photo licensing. They all thought after paying a photographer they owned real estate photos.
- A photographer in the Seattle area told me that he recently walked into a ReMax office and to his surprise, one of his photos had been turned into a wall mural for their waiting room.
- Another photographer recently found an image from one of his shoots used in an Architectural Digest ad for a big name real estate brokerage. The office didn't even discuss this with the photographer.
To make things even worse, as a reaction to the VHT suit against Zillow, a Planomatic (a VHT competitor) has decided to transfer ownership of all photos Planomatic shoots to the listing agents. See this article for details.
My conclusion is if you are a photographer that intends to retain ownership of your real estate work and you want to avoid surprises like #4 and #5 above you must explain your photo licensing policy to you clients and have them agree to your terms with a written contract before you do a shoot.