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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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mls corelogic photography rights

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

Need a scheduling tool that can do it all? SavvyCal has you covered

(TECH NEWS) There’s new scheduling software tool that helps people schedule meetings with you and doesn’t put the burden completely on the recipient.

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Computer on a desk in open office with SavvyCal, a scheduling tool, open on the computer.

One of the worst parts of meetings is setting up the meeting itself. Figuring out who’s free and when can sometimes be a time suck. In the past, we’ve written about several scheduling tools that say they will make things better. Now, here is another new tool that says it can do more than what other meeting software tools had to offer.

Meet SavvyCal, an indie SaaS company whose “mission is to cut the friction and awkwardness out of scheduling time with people.” Founded by Derrick Reimer, a full-stack developer and co-founder of Drip, the company is solving the age-old problem of scheduling meetings.

“There are a hundred and one scheduling tools to help you avoid the awkward dance of finding a time to meet. While most of them are convenient for the person sending a link to book a time with them, are they actually convenient for the person receiving the link?” said Reimer.

Unlike other apps, the scheduling tool makes it easy for both the sender and the recipient to schedule meetings. It also has valuable features that other tools do not.

So, what features set SavvyCal apart from other scheduling software?

Personalized Links
SavvyCal says it’s an alternative to Calendly because it’s picking up where the pioneer left off. While Calendly lets you schedule appointments, it doesn’t offer the personalization that SavvyCal does. SavvyCal prioritizes personalization by letting you create individual scheduling links for your recipients. For instance, instead of having a string of numbers that don’t offer much information, you can add names to the link titles to create custom URLs.

Overlay Calendar
The scheduling tool quickly lets you find a time that works for everyone, and the company says it does more than what Doodle can do for you. Doodle is great for group scheduling, but it falls short when scheduling 1:1 meetings. SavvyCal improves upon Doodle by allowing your recipients to overlay their calendar over yours so a mutual availability slot is easily found.

Multiple Calendars
SavvyCal says it wasn’t just made for internal meetings, like scheduling software Woven. With Woven, you can keep track of your digital calendar by tagging and labeling events. However, all the events live in the same calendar, and it doesn’t take into consideration external meetings. SavvyCal solves Woven’s problem by having multiple calendars that can be cross-checked for conflicts.

Ranked Availability and Limit Scheduling Frequency
With the tool, you can set preferred times and rank them in a certain order so people are encouraged to pick a time that you secretly want them to choose. And, the tool protects you from having a “meeting overload” by letting you set booking limits. For instance, you can set limits on the number of meetings that can be booked per day, week, or month.

In addition, SavvyCal offers more features like availability presets, multiple meeting durations, and customizing availability on the fly.

Overall, the company says the scheduling tool makes “scheduling collaborative instead of a nuisance.” It’s a good alternative to start getting people to schedule meetings with you while not placing all the burden on the recipient.

So far, it’s getting good reviews. If you’d like to check it out, the interactive demo on their website is a good start.

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Real Estate Technology

Realtors and agents, take advantage of your proptech

(TECH NEWS) As the pandemic makes proptech even hotter, savvy real estate pros need to know what tech tools can do for their business.

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Realtor outlining a home using Proptech to potential homebuyers.

Real estate industry experts have a message for Realtors and agents: Get with the proptech program.

Yes, the industry reacted to the pandemic-fueled market crash in the spring by jumping on video conferencing platforms and ramping up virtual tours, but there’s a lot more tech that real estate pros could be taking advantage of.

“Videoconferencing technology isn’t new, but we’re slower to adopt technologies than we’d like to admit,” Nick Bailey, chief customer officer for RE/MAX, LLC, said during this week’s 2020 REALTORS® Conference & Expo. “The reason is that we don’t want to see or hear ourselves. We have to get over that and use it.” (Pro tip for Zoom users: If you don’t want to see yourself, use the Hide Myself feature. Then you won’t be distracted by any pandemic weight gain.)

The pandemic has made a couple of things sparkling clear. As panelists in the “COVID-19 – Transforming How Realtors® Do Business” session agreed, technology was a huge driver in the industry’s V-shaped recovery after lockdowns. They also said trends spurred by COVID-19 aren’t going away.

Consumers love the efficiency and flexibility of being able to virtually tour 10 homes and visit only 3 or 4 top candidates. Also, many people will likely be uncomfortable touring houses for quite awhile.

Now the pandemic has helped demonstrate the value of proptech tools for Realtors and agents, who can use them for keeping in touch with clients, as well as for marketing and prospecting.

“If every agent can take away two pieces of technology to be more efficient, it will improve their business,” Bailey said.

Just a sample of the panel’s recommended tools:

It’s remote online notarization (RON) integrated with e-signatures that could be the biggest efficiency game-changer. However, there are few hurdles, which the Texas Land Title Association outlined in April: Many lenders and county clerks will not yet accept documents notarized online; there are a limited number of RON vendors and registered e-notaries; and consumers as well as industry professionals simply don’t understand how it works.

Still, integrating a tech ecosystem to create seamless, fully-digital transactions appears to be where the industry is headed. “Embracing title companies and lenders who have that ability for full electronic signings and closings will be important,” said Andy Ambrose, practice lead at DocuSign Notary.

For all that tech can do to save time and money, panelists agreed that nothing can replace the value of personal relationships for consumers – and for agents.

“For many real estate professionals, the pandemic reminded them about how much they love working with people and not just to sell real estate, but to check on their customers and families,” said Marilyn Wilson, managing partner of WAV Group and president of RETechnology.com.

For Bailey, the proptech surge has one really bright spot: “It has reminded every agent that they are the most important part of the real estate transaction, and that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

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Real Estate Technology

No sympathy for cancelled app encouraging ‘rebellious’ pandemic parties

(TECH NEWS) Apple and TikTok cancel Vybe Together’s accounts to prevent the secret party organizing app from promoting pandemic parties, while its founder cries foul and backpedals mightily.

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Group of people celebrating and cheers-ing with beverages, an example of unsafe pandemic parties.

Where can you find a fun secret party during COVID-19 restrictions?

Vybe Together: We’ve got you, party people! Check out these videos of wild, private bacchanalia you can join or throw! Be a rebel.

Apple and TikTok: Not on our watch.

Vybe Together: Waaah. So unfair, jk, we were talking about small, intimate get-togethers that are totally COVID-safe.

Vybe Together, an app promising to help people find secret parties in their area, in the era when parties are a bad idea, had the proverbial rug pulled out from under them when both Apple and TikTok put the kibosh on Vybe Together. Apple pulled the app off of its platform, and TikTok banned their channel. They cited that it goes against their community guidelines and COVID-19 regulations in several cities. Founder Alexander Dimcevski and the official Vybe Together Instagram account and website are currently backpedaling to beat the ban.

Taylor Lorenz of the New York Times tweeted the app into greater public awareness on Dec. 29, reporting the large secret pandemic parties they were promoting for New Year’s Eve. Alas, the tweet and likely numerous reports of the party app going against community and recommended COVID-19 guidelines, led Apple and TikTok to ditch Vybe Together before New Year’s Eve.

Despite Vybe Together’s founder’s cries of poor, pitiful me, and the app’s claim to the contrary, the intention to help people find and attend large scale private/secret parties was what they seemed to be showcasing. For example, on TikTok, the account showed videos of unmasked partygoers, attracting more of what the founder deemed, in an LA Times article, “the coolest people in the city.”

The official word on the Vybe Together website is that they are sorely misunderstood and innocent of any wrongdoing. Vybe Together’s current Instagram account hints at what the LA Times called “its outlaw intention” with its tagline “Get your rebel on. Get your party on.” According to various sources, the TikTok account featured videos of unmasked partygoers. The mere fact that app users had to submit their social media profiles and photos of them partying to vet appears to indicate they were trying to make their partygoers prove they wouldn’t report the illegal (or at least ill-advised) parties.

The official website now claims that it was merely an error in branding, and nothing more, and that of course they were only promoting small gatherings in people’s own homes. However, they had already promoted a rooftop party for NYU students prior to getting hit by the big Apple and TikTok ban hammer. This particular party was cross-promoted on Eventbrite (another platform notoriously promoting pandemic parties).

Dimcevski claims in the LA Times that he was “canceled by the liberal media.” The word from the app’s team seems to be a mix of feeling sorry for themselves, backpedaling because they got caught out, yet still promising to come back soon. In any case, it’s a mixed message and an unwelcome one, when cases and deaths are still surging in both New York City and Miami, where the app was promoting these private parties.

Apple and TikTok are privately owned companies with some responsibility to keep potentially illegal activity off their sites, a massive and ungratifying task. Are Apple and TikTok making an example of the app? Perhaps. Is Vybe Together the only platform out there promoting pandemic parties with the potential to be super spreader events? Certainly not.

However, their flaunting and promoting parties seems reckless, callous, and dangerous in the face of CDC guidelines. With thousands of doctors, healthcare workers, local officials, and infectious disease experts worldwide pleading with the public to avoid gatherings with people outside their own household, even small ones, it’s difficult to muster sympathy for the app’s founder or team.

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