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Zillow sued for $81 million by real estate photographer

(BUSINESS NEWS) Real estate giant Zillow is being sued by a California photographer who intimates that the company has scraped the images without anyone’s permission.

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zillow sued by gutenberg represented by mathew higbee of higbee associates

California photographer, George Gutenberg filed a lawsuit today against Zillow, alleging copyright violations for their use of his real estate photos, indicating that Zillow scrapes images from Multiple Listing Services (MLSs) rather than using listing data syndicated to them.

Court documents request a bench trial, damages (plus attorney’s fees and court costs), and that Zillow stop using Gutenberg’s copyrighted images. Under 17 U.S.C. § 504, Gutenberg is seeking “an amount to be proven or, in the alternative, at Plaintiff’s election, an award for statutory damages against Defendant in an amount up to $150,000.00 for each infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §
504(c), whichever is larger.”

If Gutenberg were to win, Exhibit A of the lawsuit cites 543 images in question across 17 listings on Zillow, which would total $81,450,000 or more.

The issue of real estate photography copyrights has long been convoluted. There are six stakeholders that have consistently argued that they own images used in real estate listings: homeowners, real estate photographers, the listing agent, the broker, MLSs, and real estate listing websites.

The argument that homeowners own the rights to images taken of their property has very little merit, and we have uncovered no copyright lawsuits that a homeowner has won regarding photography.

One can see why an agent or broker believes they have the right to the images they’ve paid for, but those parties don’t always read their photographer’s agreement prior to paying their invoice, while MLSs and websites have slid into their Terms of Service that they own the copyright once it is uploaded to their servers (be it directly or via syndication).

But what is different about Gutenberg’s position than many others is that he retains the copyright to all photographs taken of each property, allowing the agent a “limited license to use the photographs for up to one-year purposes of marketing the property.”

Wouldn’t that include Zillow? Nope.

The license “expressly states that it is not transferrable and prohibits third party use without permission from Gutenberg.”

Unlike many photographers, Gutenberg actually registers his images with the U.S. Copyright Office.

Mathew Higbee of Higbee and Associates issued the following statement to The American Genius:

“Mr. Gutenberg has a robust working relationship with many top real estate agents in southern California and across the nation. Mr. Gutenberg’s clients gladly pay to license his work knowing that Mr. Gutenberg’s high-quality photographs and signature style add significant value to their listings. In addition to real estate listings, Mr. Gutenberg also licenses of his photographs for editorial and commercial use in print and online publications, advertisements, and retail and commercial businesses.

The agents that engage Mr. Gutenberg understand that they are permitted to use his photographs for the limited purpose of promoting their real estate listing, which includes placing the photographs on the MLS. Content placed on the MLS is only available for the life of the listing and is immediately removed when the listing is sold or otherwise taken off the market. Mr. Gutenberg is not aware of any of his real estate clients directly syndicating his photographs to Zillow, nor is Mr. Gutenberg aware of any of his real estate clients exceeding the scope of rights granted in their individual licensing agreements with him.

Rather, it appears that Zillow, owner of the largest real estate website in the world, indiscriminately copies millions of photographs per day off of the MLS in an effort to build what they refer to as their ‘Living Database of All Homes,’ which Zillow has leveraged into multi-billion dollar company. Zillow’s unlawful copying comes at the expense of creators and rights holders such as Mr. Gutenberg who depend on payment of reasonable licensing fees by those who exploit their works.”

The implication is that the clients are not in violation of the copyright if they didn’t syndicate listings to Zillow or upload them directly. A claim that is far heavier than a standard copyright lawsuit, and stands to call into question Zillow’s practices.

The internet has long changed how people copyright images, who owns them, what agreements each party enters as they upload and/or syndicate data to third party sites. This isn’t the first lawsuit of this nature, nor the last.

We’ll keep you updated as this lawsuit progresses.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Roland Estrada

    September 17, 2018 at 8:58 pm

    This practice by photographers needs to be stopped by market forces. As far as I’m concerned, If I pay for a photograph, I own the right to it I don’t give a crap what the photographer thinks. As agents, we need to tell a photographers up front if they have any type of agreement wherein I give up rights of ownership of any kind they need to move on and the will find another photographer.

    We can stop this weasel BS practice but we nee to collectively make a effort to do so.

    • David C

      September 18, 2018 at 3:30 pm

      Well aren’t you a real peach…. Way to damage your reputation by showcasing ignorance. I recommend a basic Google search of US copyright law. Question for you: when you pay for a book, do you also believe that you now own it and can reprint it with impunity?

    • Robert

      September 18, 2018 at 3:44 pm

      It’s called US Copyright law! By default you don’t own jack. Good luck finding any good photographers to work for you! LOL it’s no different than the song you buy off iTunes. You don’t own the song. You just own the right to listen to the music. You don’t own the right to profit or resell.

    • Robert

      September 18, 2018 at 3:57 pm

      Nobody cares about your concern which goes against US Copyright law. The photographer by default owns the copyright unless the transfer of copyright is in writing. I would quit before I bowed to the demands of an idiot realtor like you. How about we quit the BS practice of commissions and put all realtors on a fixed salary.

    • Dan

      September 18, 2018 at 7:54 pm

      Realtors who have no clue how the market functions and still think they are able to help their clients. Wise up, be professional and learn how the law protects the market from thieves who think exactly like you.

    • Rob

      September 19, 2018 at 6:33 am

      Hey homie…
      Next time you buy your favorite Beyonce tune, please call her and tell her that you’re the new owner and that she can go take a flyer.
      Get back to me with her lawyers response. I’ll wait.

    • George

      September 20, 2018 at 12:46 pm

      @ Roland Estrada,

      I think you are misunderstanding this entirely. The Realtor are licensed to use the images in all the customary ways in marketing the property, as well as themselves.

      The complaints is against a 3rd party, that is using the images to enrich themselves without authority, and without compensating the original creator!

      The fact that you “don’t give a crap what the photographer thinks” says a lot about the value you put on your photographer, and the work that person puts in to try to help market your listings.

    • George

      September 20, 2018 at 7:49 pm

      I think you are completely missing the point here. The complaint is NOT directed towards my Realtor clients. They are able to use the images in marketing of the properties, as well as themselves.

      Th complaint is directed towards a 3rd party, who’s entire business model is based on the use of images that does NOT belong to them, that they do NOT have authorization to use, and that they have not paid for.

      Just to correct the record, there is no $81 mil claim in the complaint. While it makes for a good headline, it is not what the suit specifies.

      The fact that you “don’t give a crap what the photographer thinks” reflects more on your how you value the contribution a professional photographer brings to your marketing efforts. Thankfully, my clients appreciate what I bring to the table.

    • Ken Brown

      September 20, 2018 at 9:14 pm

      Roland, photography is the same as any other creative endeavor such as music, painting, movies and TV. Unless a specific contract is made that assigns the ownership of the photos or the photographer is an employee, the photographer is granted an automatic Copyright as soon as the shutter is clicked. A good real estate photographer will have discussed with their clients the licensing terms for the use of the images and most pros included all of the permissions needed to market a home in all media until the home is sold or removed from the market. Many photographers like me also allow the agent to use the images to market themselves on web sites and brochures. We want you to do well and continue hiring us.

      Zillow is not a mom ‘n pop entity struggling to pay its bills and instead of paying for image or making them on their own, they are copying them from the internet to create a service that they earn money from. It is akin to copying popular songs and selling mix cd’s online. There are ways to license those songs and do it legally. Photographers charge very low rates for real estate marketing images in the hopes of selling them to others.

  2. Lane Bailey

    September 17, 2018 at 9:22 pm

    I spent 10 years as a professional photographer before being a real estate agent. Even at the heights of commercial photography, where clients are paying thousands of dollars per day plus expenses for a photographer, they don’t own the image… they negotiate rights to use it. If they buy it outright (and sometimes they do) they pay an often hefty additional fee for that.

    What is shameful is MLSs saying that they own all images that are uploaded to them… where I am there are two different MLSs that serve us. Most good agents are members of both. But technically, if I upload the same pictures to both, I have violated the copyright protections of one or the other. Because after loading them to the first, I no longer own the rights to load them to the second.

  3. David Eichler

    September 19, 2018 at 2:02 pm

    It is standard practice for professional photographers to retain copyright to their photos and sell usage rights to their clients for specific purposes. It is also typical for the usage licenses to state that, without the photographer’s written consent, the usage license may not be transferred and no third parties may use the images for any other purposes.

    I can state for a fact that many real estate agents do purchase usage rights to their listing photos, rather than owning the photos outright, and they understand exactly what they are doing. It is also my strong impression that many real estate agents do not like Zillow and do not submit their listings to Zillow. I have had real estate agents tell me they do not do so and have seen a variety of comments to this effect by real estate agents in various Internet forums.

    The business model known as rights management, where the party that creates copyrightable material retains ownership of the copyright and licenses usage rights to others for a fee, is no different for photographers than it is for writers, software developers, movie producers, architects, artists and others who create intellectual property.

    If a real estate agent does not wish to purchase usage rights and would rather own the photos outright, he or she can probably fine a photographer who will sell them the copyright. However, such photographers are likely to be at the lower end of the skill-talent range. Ultimately, it is a question of how much value the photos have to the client.

  4. Pingback: Real Estate Giant Zillow Sued for $81 Million by Photographer - World Photography

  5. David Eichler

    September 22, 2018 at 2:10 am

    “If Gutenberg were to win, Exhibit A of the lawsuit cites 543 images in question across 17 listings on Zillow, which would total $81,450,000 or more.” First of all, this is a very badly written sentence. Second, it does not adequately describe the potential award, which could well be lower, and does not explain that it could only be higher if the court awards the plaintiff court costs and attorney’s fees, since the maximum award available for infringement itself is $150,000 per infringement. Furthermore, this maximum award is only available if the plaintiff can prove that the defendant’s infringement was willful (which seems to me to be likely in the case of a company such as Zillow). Otherwise, the maximum possible award would be $30,000 per infringement if the court determines that infringement was not willful.

  6. Pingback: Photographer Sues Zillow for $81M for Scraping His Real Estate Photos – Photography News World

  7. Pingback: Real Estate in Brief: FTC website crackdown, Zillow lawsuit and more

  8. Pingback: Real Estate in Brief: FTC website crackdown, Zillow lawsuit and more

  9. Pingback: Photographer Sues Zillow $81M for Scraping His Real Estate Photos

  10. Pingback: Real Estate in Brief: FTC website crack-down, HUD hiring for loyalty, and Zillow's lawsuit

  11. Pingback: Real Estate in Brief: FTC website crack-down, HUD hiring for loyalty, and Zillow's lawsuit

  12. Pingback: Real Estate Giant Zillow Sued for $81 Million by Photographer • Feedster

  13. Pingback: The Real Estate Guide to Photo Usage Rights - Pearl Insurance

  14. Ben Dover

    December 3, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    Zillow is now dictating the value of property rather than the market. They need to be stopped.

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This web platform for cannabis is blowing up online distribution

(BUSINESS NEWS) Dutchie, a website platform for cannabis companies, just octupled in value. Here’s what that means for the online growth of cannabis distribution.

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A small jar of cannabis on a desk with notebooks, sold online in a nicely made jar.

The cannabis industry has, for the most part, blossomed in the past few years, managing to hit only a few major snags along the way. One of those snags is the issue of payment processing, an issue compounded by predominantly cash-only transactions. Dutchie, a Bend, Oregon company, has helped mitigate that issue—and it just raised a ton of money.

Technically, Dutchie is a jack-of-all-trades service that creates and hosts websites for dispensaries, tracks product, processes orders, keeps stock of revenue, and so much more. While it was valued at around $200 million as recently as summer of 2020, a round of series C funding currently puts the company at around $1.7 billion—approximately 8 times its worth a mere 8 months ago.

There are a few reasons behind Dutchie’s newfound momentum. For starters, the pandemic made cannabis products a lot more accessible—and desirable—in states in which the sale of cannabis is legal. The ensuing surge of customers and demand certainly didn’t hurt the platform, especially given that Dutchie is largely responsible for keeping things on track during some of the more chaotic months for dispensaries.

Several states in which the sale of cannabis was illegal also voted to legalize recreational use, giving Dutchie even more stomping ground than they had prior to the lockdown.

Dutchie also recently took on 2 separate companies and their associated employees, effectively doubling their current staff. The companies are Greenbits—a resource planning group—and Leaflogix, which is a point-of-sale platform. With these two additions to their compendium, Dutchie can operate as even more of an all-in-one suite, which absolutely contributes to its value as a company.

Ross Lipson, who is Dutchie’s co-founder and current CEO, is fairly dismissive of investment opportunities for the public at the moment, saying he instead prefers to stay “focused with what’s on our plate” for the time being. However, he also appears open to the possibility of going public via an acquisition company.

“We look at how this decision brings value to the dispensary and the customer,” says Lipson. “If it brings value, we’d embark on that decision.”

For now, Dutchie remains the ipso facto king of cannabis distribution and sales—and they don’t show any plans to slow down any time soon.

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Ford adopts flexible working from home schedule for over 30k employees

(BUSINESS NEWS) Ford Motor Co. is allowing employees to continue working from home even after the pandemic winds down. Is this the beginning of a trend for auto companies?

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Woman in car working on engineering now allowed a flexible schedule for working from home.

The pandemic has greatly transformed our lives. For the most part, learning is being conducted online. At one point, interacting with others was pretty much non-existent. Working in the office shifted significantly to working remotely, and it seems like working from home might not go away anytime soon.

As things slowly get back to a new “normal”, will things change again? Well, one thing is sure. Working from home will be a permanent thing for some people as more companies opt to continue letting people work remotely.

And, the most recent company on the list to do this is Ford Motor Co. Even after the pandemic winds down, Ford will allow more than 30,000 employees already working from home to continue doing so.

Last week, the automaker giant announced its “flexible hybrid model” schedule to its staff. The new schedule is set to start in the summer, and employees can choose to work remotely and come into the office for tasks that require face-to-face collaborations, such as meetings and group projects.

How much time an employee spends in the office will depend on their responsibilities, and flexible remote hours will need to be approved by an employee’s manager.

“The nature of work drives whether or not you can adopt this model. There are certain jobs that are place-dependent — you need to be in the physical space to do the job,” David Dubensky, chairman and chief executive of Ford Land, told the Washington Post. “Having the flexibility to choose how you work is pretty powerful. … It’s up to the employee to have dialogue and discussion with their people leader to determine what works best.”

Ford’s decision to implement a remote-office work model has to do in part with an employee survey conducted in June 2020. Results from the survey showed that 95% of employees wanted a hybrid schedule. Some employees even reported feeling more productive when working from home.

Ford is the first auto company to allow employees to work from home indefinitely, but it might not be the only one. According to the Post, Toyota and General Motors are looking at flexible options of their own.

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Unify your remote team with these important conversations

(BUSINESS NEWS) More than a happy hour, consider having these poignant conversations to bring your remote team together like never before.

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Woman working in office with remote team

Cultivating a team dynamic is difficult enough without everyone’s Zoom feed freezing halfway through “happy” hour. You may not be able to bond over margaritas these days, but there are a few conversations you can have to make your team feel more supported—and more comfortable with communicating.

According to Forbes, the first conversation to have pertains to individual productivity. Ask your employees, quite simply, what their productivity indicators are. Since you can’t rely on popping into the office to see who is working on a project and who is beating their Snake score, knowing how your employees quantify productivity is the next-best thing. This may lead to a conversation about what you want to see in return, which is always helpful for your employees to know.

Another thing to discuss with your employees regards communication. Determining which avenues of communication are appropriate, which ones should be reserved for emergencies, and which ones are completely off the table is key. For example, you might find that most employees are comfortable texting each other while you prefer Slack or email updates. Setting that boundary ahead of time and making it “office” policy will help prevent strain down the road.

Finally, checking in with your employees about their expectations is also important. If you can discuss the sticky issue of who deals with what, whose job responsibilities overlap, and what each person is predominantly responsible for, you’ll negate a lot of stress later. Knowing exactly which of your employees specialize in specific areas is good for you, and it’s good for the team as a whole.

With these 3 discussions out of the way, you can turn your focus to more nebulous concepts, the first of which pertains to hiring. Loop your employees in and ask them how they would hire new talent during this time; what aspects would they look for, and how would they discern between candidates without being able to meet in-person? It may seem like a trivial conversation, but having it will serve to unify further your team—so it’s worth your time.

The last crucial conversation, per Forbes, is simple: Ask your employees what they would prioritize if they became CEOs tomorrow. There’s a lot of latitude for goofy responses here, but you’ll hear some really valuable—and potentially gut-wrenching—feedback you wouldn’t usually receive. It never hurts to know what your staff prioritize as idealists.

Unifying your staff can be difficult, but if you start with these conversations, you’ll be well on your way to a strong team during these trying times.

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