Real estate photography copyright issues have lingered for years, with the chain of ownership allegedly violated at various points of publication. For years, agents have hired photographers to create listing photos, and some MLS systems’ terms of service include fine print that notes any uploads through their system grants them the copyright. Then, third party companies using the images claim copyright, brokers often claim copyright since they’ve paid for the images, and of course, homeowners could argue they own the images of their home. It’s messy.
Photographer Robert Stevens recently filed suit against CoreLogic for copyright infringement, arguing that they stripped critical metadata from images and sold them through a different product without permission or compensation.
The lawsuit notes, “CoreLogic knew or had reasonable grounds to know that its falsification, removal and/or alteration of copyright management information would induce, enable, facilitate or conceal copyright infringement of the photographic works of Plaintiff and the Class.”
Stripping out the metadata
Court documents state that when uploaded to a CoreLogic MLS product, the digital files contained metadata. This metadata is identifying information such as the name of the photographer or copyright owner, geolocation data, time of photo, camera settings, all of which can be used to identify the author or copyright owner of a photograph, or even the permissions granted to the owner (such as “all rights reserved”).
Stevens documents one specific photo he took, which he licensed to a Realtor who uploaded the image complete with metadata to the RAPB (Realtors’ Association of the Palm Beaches) through the CoreLogic MLS product. Stevens reportedly has no relationship with RAPB or CoreLogic and did not license either to alter copyright management information (the metadata information), yet shows that CoreLogic copied the image into its RealQuest database and sold access to the database without permission or compensation, falsely attributing copyright ownership of the photograph to CoreLogic, absent any metadata.
Houston Realtor, Tom Johnson said, “I have never understood how every website that displays listing photographs could claim to own the copyright and the send that listing content on to the next site that claims the copyright. It looks like the legal owners of the copyright have had enough.”
The suit seeks civil remedies, “including an injunction, impounding of any device or product involved” in violation, for “remedial modification or destruction, damages, costs, and attorney fees.”
Going up against the big dogs to fight for their value
CoreLogic says they represent 17 of the 20 top MLS organizations, and that their data includes more than 99 percent of U.S. property records, with over 3.3 billion property and financial records spanning over 40 years, including over two million active MLS property listings. Court documents state that “these [active] listings include photographs of real property created by Plaintiff and the Class.” In other words, we’re not talking about small potatoes here, and photographers’ work is valuable (and in many cases, protected by copyright).
The Plaintiff argues that homes sell better when real estate listing photos are created by professional photographers, citing a 2010 Redfin report, also noting that adding additional photos can increase the asking price of a listing. The valuable photographs at issue allegedly contain “copyright management information,” and alleges that CoreLogic is in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
“It is likely that many other real estate photographers in cities around the US where CoreLogic MLS software is used may have experienced damages similar to the current Plaintiff Robert Stevens,” said Photography For Real Estate’s Larry Lohrman.
Read the full lawsuit here: