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Lawsuit alleges CoreLogic MLS products violate photographers’ copyrights [UPDATE]

CoreLogic, one of the lead proprietors of MLS platforms has been accused of violating copyright laws. What do you think about Realtor photography copyright laws?

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With the rise of the web came the adaptation of new rules and regulations; not surprising then that one of the largest issues aside from privacy is copyright issues. Real estate is certainly not exempt from these issues, especially when it comes to photography.

As we’ve covered in depth, real estate copyright issues have lingered for years, with the chain of ownership allegedly violated at nearly every point of publication.

Agents hire a photographer to take listing photos, then (some) MLS systems’ terms of service include fine print stating any uploads through the system become the property of the system. Also, third party companies using the images claim copyright and then there’s the homeowners themselves to consider. To summarize, photography issues are messy.

One photographer has been fighting against the mess, and trying to make sense of the copyright laws. Robert Stevens filed suit against CoreLogic for copyright infringement. He contends CoreLogic stripped critical metadata from images and sold them through a different product without permission or compensation.

Metadata is embedded information such as the photographer’s name, or the copyright owner, geolocation data, time of photo, or camera settings; all of which can be used to identify the authorized copyright owner.

By stripping this information, copyright infringement has allegedly taken place. When you consider that CoreLogic says they represent 17 of the 20 top MLS organizations, the allegations made by Stevens could be one tiny ripple in a very large pond; who knows how many other real estate photographers have experienced a similar metadata stripping.

To summarize what happened; Stevens took a photo and licensed it to a Realtor for use. This Realtor then uploaded the image with metadata to the RAPB (Realtor’s Association of the Palm Beaches) through CoreLogics’s MLS platform. Steven states he has no relationship with CoreLogic or RAPB and did not license either to alter the copyright metadata, but has proof it was indeed altered and then integrated into CoreLogic’s RealQues database and sold without permission or compensation to Stevens.

Stevens, another photographer, Steven Vandal, and their photography company, then filed suit against CoreLogic on May 7, 2014. Since then, it has been a slow process of establishing exactly what happened. There were a few issues regarding discovery and how the information would be used. A number of pending discovery disputes that the Plaintiffs (Stevens and co.) offer in support of their Motion to Continue are not yet ripe for Court intervention, which has led to some unfortunate bumps in the road.

The Plaintiffs’ Motion to Compel is organized into three categories: written discovery related to 17 U.S.C. 1202 mental state elements [violation of of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA)], written discovery related to CoreLogic’s Parner InfoNet Program [basically asking for a record of when and how information, especially photographs were sold and transferred in the CoreLogic MLS system], and the depositions of Albert McElmon and Ethan Bailey.

However, on January 14, 2016, Judge Jill L. Burkhardt, addressed all the above issues, in-depth and it looks as though CoreLogic may be in hot water.

Part one: Written discovery

The first issue, addresses that of written discovery related to the 17 U.S.C. §1202. There are seven sections addressing the issue. Briefly:

Section “A” (Production 2) deals with the Plaintiffs’ request for information regarding “any actually or potential assignment of copyrights in real estate photographs to any MLS at any time from October 28, 1998 to May 7, 2014.” The Court denied the claim as it would “limit the discovery” the Plaintiff is seeking.

Section “B” (Interrogatory Nos. 11-12) “seeks information regarding the efforts of CoreLogic and other, to the extent that CoreLogic is aware, ‘to have photographers assign their copyrights in real estate photographs to any MLS at any time from October 28, 1998 to May 7, 2014.’” The Motion to Compel was denied, however, CoreLogic must provide a verified response that either “identifies any assignment efforts of which CoreLogic is aware, or states that the identified documents reflect all of the assignment efforts” before January 28, 2016.

Section “C” (Request for Production No. 3) seeks documents relating to “any DMCA notices [CoreLogic] received at any time from October 28, 1998 to May 7, 2014.” The Court found that the Plaintiffs’ requests were improperly narrow (and their Motion was denied until it’s revised), but CoreLogic shall produce all documents related to the DMCA notices on or before January 28, 2016.

Section “D” (Interrogatory No. 7) seeks information identifying “all software that read any metadata tag/field on digital photographs at any time from October 28, 1998 to May 7, 2014.” The Plaintiff’s Motion was found to be overbroad, but shall be narrowed appropriately and CoreLogic shall produce verified supplemental responses to this narrowed revision on or before January 28, 2016.

Section “E” (Request for Production No. 4) seeks documents CoreLogic received “from any attorney regarding this lawsuit prior to being served with the complaint on August 28, 2014. This Motion was granted and the CoreLogic shall produce the documents on or before January 28, 2016.

Section “F” (Request for Production No. 5) seeks “in native format, the organizational charts described during the deposition of [CoreLogic’s] employee Leticia Ocamp during the time period of 2011 to present.” The Motion was denied as a previous request seeking identical information was made.

Section “G” (Interrogatory Nos. 1-6, 19) seeks information “related to CoreLogic’s employment of both current and former in-house counsel, outside law firms, and software engineers.” CoreLogic will be compelled to provide the information, however, the Plaintiffs will need to revise their overbroad terms into something more specific (exactly what documents they seek and from whom).

Part two: CoreLogic’s InfoNet Program

The second section deals with written discovery related to the InfoNet Program. The Plaintiffs are requesting information related to the prospective users of CoreLogic’s Partner InfoNet Program, including reports and other documents regarding the internal workings, functionality, and financial status of the Partner InfoNet Program.

The Plaintiffs will revise their over-broad requests and CoreLogic will produce all documents in their custody and control, including to those documents sent and received from any related or prospective MLS partners of the Partner InfoNet Program, including prospective users of the products: RealQuest Pro, Appraisal Suite, Connect2Data, MLS Data Packages, Bulk Licensing Web Service, MLS Listing-Other, Advisory, Onsite and Onsite Plus, BPO Check, and LSAM that refer to or address issues of rights to display photographs and/or copyright infringement.

Part three: Depositions

The final section addresses the depositions of Albert McElmon and Ethan Bailey. The Motion seeks to compel the continuation of the September 2, 2015 deposition of McElmon and Bailey. The Court denied the Motion to continue deposing them stating that they had ample time, they simply chose not to use is wisely.

In summary

To summarize, CoreLogic will be compelled to provide the following evidence:

  • A verified response as to whether or not the assignments reflect identified documents
  • Produce all documents related to the DMCA notices
  • Produce verified supplemental responses to the metadata tag/field request
  • Produce documents regarding previous legal consultations
  • Provide documents regarding previous employees: in-house counsel, outside law firms, and software engineers
  • Provide all documents in their custody and control, including to those documents sent and received from any related or prospective MLS partners which is quite an extensive list.

As the deadline for providing this information was last week, it will be interesting to see what the next steps will be for CoreLogic.

Will the court decide that they have indeed violated the copyright laws, or will the decide that Stevens does not quite have enough information to make a case?

Jennifer Walpole is a Senior Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds a Master's degree in English from the University of Oklahoma. She is a science fiction fanatic and enjoys writing way more than she should. She dreams of being a screenwriter and seeing her work on the big screen in Hollywood one day.

Real Estate Technology

This asynchronous meeting tool centralizes your meeting notes

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Hugo integrates calendars and note taking with over 20 work apps to keep virtual teams organized during meetings.

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Hugo is a hub for meetings that allows users to collaborate on agendas, meeting notes, and tasks in real-time. It integrates with Slack, Salesforce, Asana and over 20 other work apps.

Started by native Australian co-founders, Josh Lowy (CEO) and Darren Chait (COO), Hugo is described as a way to become deeply aligned and more efficient through centralizing meeting notes, sharing them and integrating them into a tech stack.

Lowy stated, “The inspiration for Hugo struck while building another app. Like so many teams, we were massively distributed. Our team was partly remote, and my co-founder and I were out of the office all the time.” He described the challenge of building a transparent team while working asynchronously across time zones and how Hugo addresses the obstacles remote teams face. Lowy said that with the software’s prompts to set meeting agendas, take notes, and share through Slack, “the team was in sync and already full of ideas. We were on to something. Plus, by linking meeting notes to the calendar, we didn’t have to organize anything anymore.”

The way it works is to start by clicking on a template appropriate for a user’s meeting type. During a meeting, users can collaborate directly with internal and external teams, allowing everyone to be on the same page. Tasks and notes can be synced with integrated tools directly from Hugo. After the meeting, notes are automatically indexed based on participants, company name, meeting name, tags, and note content. Notes can be shared publicly or with a private log-in.

The key features of this product are: Notes are automatically categorized by meetings and attendees, integrations to create tasks/tickets in project management apps directly from user notes, auto-sync notes to CRM records that match the meeting, post notes to Slack channels and DMs, collaborative agendas and notes for the whole team, free agenda template library for best practices, and @ mentions to notify teammates. Hugo claims that Nike, Dropbox, iHeartMedia, Twitter, and Shopify are among their current clients.

There is a free version for up to 40 users, Pro version for a flat $399 a month for up to 100 users, and custom pricing for 101 users or more. A video intro to Hugo is available here.

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Real Estate Technology

Zillow may be on its way to becoming a patent troll

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) Zillow was granted yet ANOTHER pretty vague new utility patent last month, which leaves us wondering: what are they planning?

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We’ve got our eyes on you, Zillow.

The real estate listing website has been nabbing utility patents left and right. Their most recent one, awarded last month, is for the “automated control of image acquisition via use of acquisition device sensors.”

Basically, they claim to have invented a technique for automatically mapping a space in 3D using imaging sensors in real time, all controlled by an app on a phone or another device. This technology might even have applications like quickly building virtual reality environments using real life references. While Zillow filed for this patent in late 2018, it could prove to be a useful tool for them to have in their back pocket during the COVID age.

But looking at the whole picture, Zillow must be gearing up for something major. They’ve had 17 successful patents in the last ten years, all for inventions that seem a bit extraneous for the humble real estate listing page. Either they’re planning to start punching above their weight very soon, or they’re just well on their way to patent trolling with the best of them.

Quick refresh: A patent troll is a company that secures patents they do not need or use with the primary goal of suing “competitors” that unknowingly reproduce their copyrighted works. This behavior effectively creates a minefield for small businesses that are engaging in good faith product development.

As an aside, Zillow is currently involved in a drawn out drama where accusations of trolling have abounded in both directions. IBM recently filed a lawsuit in response to seven of Zillow’s patents, claiming that they are the original inventors and that Zillow has cost them billions of dollars in losses (note that this is small potatoes for IBM. They have over 110,000 patents, and the US Patent and Trademark Office has given them more patents than they’ve given to any other company in the world). Clearly, they see Zillow as an important rival to keep in check.

However you look at it, the takeaway here is clear: Don’t underestimate Zillow. Even though they’re not an IBM-sized giant right now, they’re still making serious moves with serious implications.

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Real Estate Technology

Rate your meetings and create more efficient work teams

(REAL ESTATE TECHNOLOGY) SurveySparrow has a plugin that allows you to rate meetings. It could help you and your team evaluate and improve future meetings.

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We love data. We are in a data driven world. We like giving our feedback via customer reviews, social media comments, surveys, and Twitter (yes, Bob, everyone knows your flight was delayed). Tell us what the data says. Well, it might be a great time to finally get some data on all those meetings you’ve been having.

Many people are sick of meetings; we sit in a lot of them that then need follow ups because either we didn’t have an agenda, or we didn’t get through the agenda. There also may be additional meetings because no one really knows what is going on, or people are unable to have a solid plan in place (thanks to the global pandemic) and require more frequent check-ins/status updates.

Perhaps we’d all dread meetings less if they could be improved and justified as a much better use of time. G suite just made available a free plugin, by SurveySparrow, that could possibly help your company improve your meetings:

RateTheMeeting helps you improve meetings by collecting feedback to understand what works and what doesn’t for your teams, divisions, or company. With this data (feedback), it might be possible to stick to agendas and the purpose of the meeting, prevent topics that require a separate discussion, and make sure that everyone’s time is well spent. It syncs to your calendar and automatically follows up with attendees to collect feedback after each meeting. You can see how it works on YouTube here.

While this seems like a helpful tool, the biggest hurdle may come from management first. They may not want feedback on meetings if they feel that meetings are necessary and the most valuable way to communicate for their teams. It also might be one more data set that they have to sort and mine.

Next, employees may not want to rate each meeting on top of their already busy schedules. They likely would only want to do this if it would make real change within the meeting culture of the organization. Either way, it might be nice to just offer a thumbs up or thumbs down for each meeting (for funsies?).

It’s always hard to please everyone, so you’ll just have to decide if adding this function is more trouble than it’s worth.

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