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How to copyright photos, and solve the issue of ownership

While the social and legal debates go round and round, safeguard your photos with Fotag. This new app gives photographers and listing agents control over listings and syndication, allowing for copyright, and thus profit from photos.

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The day has come and you are ready to finally put your house on the market. You contact a realtor, they snap a few pictures of your house, and post it for sale online. It’s that simple, right? Well, not quite.

For the past several years, there’s been an ongoing debate about the pictures that realtors take of homes for sale regarding true ownership of those images. Some claim the photos belong to the homeowners, others place ownership on the realtor, some on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) and many others in between.

The American Genius has hashed out these issues several times, with evaluations of various MLS Terms of Service, syndicated sites, and even a class action lawsuit but the issue persists. Who truly owns the photographs?

Copyright ownership over the photographs has become convoluted, as many entities stake claim on the photos, each coming with its own special circumstances.

Here’s a breakdown of the issue:

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– Many assume ownership of the photos resides with the homeowner, as it is their property being photographed, advertised, and ultimately, sold.

– Then argument is made that the photos instead belong to the photographer, unless released with a full or limited license. Some photographers may have more detailed restrictions, or acceptable usage policies, which complicates things further when real estate photos are posted on Multiple Listing Sites (MLS) and syndicated sites such as Zillow or Trulia, or on blogs that produce “real estate porn.” While MLS Terms of Service often outline a transfer of ownership upon image upload, syndicated sites seem avoid the conversation altogether, and assume the right to use the photos, further adding to bigger real estate syndication

– From the other side of the table it’s being argued that if the listing agent purchased the photographs from a professional photographer, or took them personally, they indeed belong to her. Or even higher, the broker of the listing agent claims ultimate ownership since responsibility and liability of the photographs and the listing is ultimately theirs.

Why does this debate even matter? It’s just pictures of houses, right? Well, when those photos are generating revenue, everyone wants a piece of the pie. And in fact, various entities claim rights to the images, complicating the issue endlessly.

In the lawsuit against CoreLogic, professional photographer Robert Stevens claimed the MLS site stripped identifying metadata, including photographer name, geolocation data, time, camera settings, etc. from images.

These images were then sold to other real estate databases without permission or compensation. Litigation appears to be still pending in this case, but its outcome may help outline regulations for future discussions about real estate photography ownership.

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While the social and legal debates go round and round, safeguard your photos with FOTAG. This new app gives photographers and listing agents control over listings and syndication, allowing for copyright, and thus profit from photos.

FOTAG is portal that allows realtors to take photos, upload them to a listing, and share with consumers. With both desktop and mobile functionality allows for on the go updating and browsing.

With the click of a button FOTAG allows realtors the ability to change listing status to “Sold,” thus withdrawing all photos from syndication sites.

Best of all, every listing that is created in FOTAG is automatically registered with the US Copyright Office and is continually searching for infractions and unlawful use of photos. FOTAG allows for the buying and selling of photos, creating a way for photographers to further monetize their efforts, while preventing the historical debate about photo ownership.

Written By

Megan Noel, a veteran ex-educator with a PhD in Early Childhood Education, enjoys researching life through the eyes of her two young children, while writing about her family’s adventures on With a nearly a decade in small business and marketing, this freelance writer spends most evenings pouring over new ideas and writing articles, while indulging in good food and better wine.


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