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Real Estate Corporate

Move, NAR sue Zillow and Errol Samuelson

Move, Inc. and the National Association of Realtors have sued Errol Samuelson not for his leaving without notice, but questionable circumstances like wiped hard drives.

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According to court documents filed in the State of Washington, a lawsuit has been filed by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and Move, Inc. (operator of realtor.com, Top Producer, SocialBios, ListHub, and several other companies) against Zillow, Inc. and Errol Samuelson.

The suit alleges breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and misappropriation of trade secrets. In a statement, Steve Berkowitz, CEO of Move said, “we take our trade secrets and intellectual property extremely seriously as a valuable asset in our competitive position in the marketplace. We take action in cases in which we believe our trade secrets have been compromised. We have raised this matter for the courts and believe that the matter will be resolved judiciously.”

When Errol Samuelson, former president of realtor.com and Chief Strategy Officer at Move, Inc. left to become Zillow’s Chief Industry Development Officer, reactions ranged from criticism of Move, calling it a poaching of talent, to a criticism of Samuelson, calling it a betrayal to the industry as NAR members own and have an operating agreement with Move (which competes with Zillow).

Lawsuit alleges that Samuelson destroyed evidence

Court documents state that “Each quarter that he was employed by, and an officer of, Move, Mr. Samuelson certified in writing that he had read, understood, and would abide by Move’s Code of Conduct and Business Ethics,” which includes a “Conflict of Interest” clause and forbids employees from releasing proprietary and confidential information during and after his employment.

Further, the suit states that Samuelson arranged to defect to Zillow, destroyed evidence by erasing all memory from the iPhone, iPad, and laptop issued to him for business purposes by Move, and then resigning from Move without notice.

Last week, we also questioned the timing, wondering if it was designed to hurt Move, Inc. company stocks, or benefit Zillow in some capacity, which Move and NAR clearly agree with via their lawsuit.

The truth is that during his tenure at Move, Samuelson was promoted to a position that was so encompassing, that his job entailed knowing the inner workings of Move companies as well as the National Association of Realtors. The role will not be filled as it once was, rather remain broken into parts and functions will be filled by various people.

Samuelson isn’t the only one

Don’t consider this the last lawsuit to be filed, as Zillow announced today that Samuelson’s replacement, Curt Beardsley jumped ship today as well to become Zillow’s Vice President of Industry Development.

Also, this probably shouldn’t be considered the last high ranking official that will leave for Zillow in this apparent coup – their pockets are deep and they’re clearly willing to use their assets. Next quarter’s SEC filings will shed more light on just that.

This story was originally published on AGBeat on March 17, 2014.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, 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.

Real Estate Corporate

WeWork has more office space in Manhattan than anyone

(REAL ESTATE) WeWork is now the biggest renter in Manhattan – what it says about the company, and perhaps an opportunity for *your* business.

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It’s official: WeWork now rents more office space than anyone in Manhattan—including their previous competitor, JP Morgan. With 5.3 million square feet of rented space, the coworking company clearly intends to maintain its momentum, thus lending credit to the inherent value of social work environments.

The sheer growth WeWork has seen in 2018 speaks to the notion that the coworking craze — perhaps surprisingly — isn’t slowing down.

While WeWork (and other similarly themed companies) only accounted for 3.3 percent of the new leases signed in 2017, they ate up 9.7 percent of new leases signed in the first two-thirds of 2018. Those aren’t the numbers of a trend in decline.

Despite some water cooler disdain toward WeWork’s potentially wishy-washy work culture and some of their latest publicity stunts, investors seem to like them more than ever. In fact, word on the street is that SoftBank — a prolific WeWork investor — is considering a second investment that would value WeWork at or around 40 billion dollars.

Like we said: not a sign of a declining company.

WeWork’s objective success isn’t the star of the show here, however; it’s what they’ve proven through that success which matters.

WeWork’s ethos (that human beings need interaction with other similar human beings in order to thrive in a workplace) gets further reinforced with every lease the company signs.

If small- to mid-sized companies can take away one thing from WeWork’s example, it’s this – many people need other people in order to do their best work.

There will always be exceptions to the rule—plenty of folks work alone from home and are happy to do so—but the fact that freelancers living in some of the most expensive real estate in this country are willing to pay additional cash just to be around other like-minded individuals is fairly indicative.

If nothing else, keep in mind the social atmosphere afforded by WeWork when designing your office spaces or nailing down your workplace culture expectations. And yes, they allow Realtors and brokers to lease space, too…

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Real Estate Corporate

$81M lawsuit claims Zillow illegally scrapes real estate listing pics

(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.

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Real Estate Corporate

What companies does Zillow own? Hint – there are a bunch

(BUSINESS NEWS) Zillow’s acquisition strategy continues to be aggressive, and supporting the subsequent brands is up to your personal feelings about their parent company.

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Love them or hate them, Zillow is a real estate powerhouse and its claim as the leading real estate and rental marketplace are no joke. Zillow’s database includes over 110 million homes, and has over two dozen apps in its suite. Zillow commanded an impressive second quarter revenue in 2018 of $325 million. Fun fact: Zillow recently started buying homes directly through Zillow Offers despite over a decade of swearing they’d never ever pursue a brokers license.

Zillow has grown by a series of strategic acquisitions since 2011.

Postlets was acquired in April of 2011. This service originally helped users post for rental and for sale notices.

Diverse Solutions was acquired in 2011 for $7.8M, which was an IDX company specializing in helping real estate professionals manage their brand with listing platform, mapping, and email management.

In 2012, Zillow acquired RentJuice for $40M, which was a rental relationship management for landlords, property managers, and rental brokers. They also acquired Buyfolio, a web tool to help brokers and clients streamline the home-buying process.

In November of 2012, both Mortech and Hotpads were acquired for $12M and $16M, respectively. Mortech is a mortgage pricing engine, and Hotpads is a rental listing site with specialization in heatmapping and creative mapping technologies.

NYC real estate listing platform, StreetEasy was acquired in August 2013, important given that the area doesn’t have an MLS and is known as the Wild West of real estate, making that data valuable.

In 2014, Zillow acquired Retsly, a platform for developers to access real estate listing. But that was completely undershadowed 12 days later when they acquired their direct competitor, Trulia for $3.5B

Real estate transaction system, dotloop was acquired in July 2015 for $108M.

Naked Apartments, which was another rental app exclusively for the NYC market, was acquired the following year.

Zillow’s latest acquisition was Mortgage Lenders of America in August of this year, which is an online mortgage lending service.

This is brings Zillow full circle into the ability to search, compare, and ultimately purchase your own home.

Calling Zillow the “Facebook of Real Estate” as some articles have, isn’t a far off assessment. As far as mergers go, Zillow is aggressive, and their M&A strategy doesn’t appear to be cooling.

To summarize, these are the companies that are now under Zillow’s umbrella:

  1. Buyfolio
  2. Diverse Solutions
  3. dotloop
  4. Hotpads
  5. Mortech
  6. Mortgage Lenders of America
  7. Naked Apartments
  8. Postlets
  9. RentJuice
  10. Retsly
  11. StreetEasy
  12. Trulia

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