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Ethics

I Don’t Want To Start a Fight But..


It Seems So Simple

When we become REALTORS, we’re supposed to subscribe to a Code of Ethics. Subscribe to as opposed to be restricted by . I always thought it was a good thing. Something to be proud of. A higher standard that we’re willing to be held to.

There’s only 17 articles in the Code of Ethics. Only one of them deals with money disputes (the last one, Article 17 – )  so that  leaves 16 Articles to define our ethical practices as real estate professionals.

One of the core articles is Article 12 of the code which states “quote the article here”.

So Why Don’t People Get it?

Lisa Sanderson wrote a post here a couple of days ago about the ability of members to influence associations through their participation. In the comments, a discussion started about the dispute between Mark Rasmussen and the Sarasota Association of REALTORS.  This post was originally going to be a comment there, but the more comments I read, the more depressed I got because there seemed to be so many practicing ethical REALTORS responding who just completely misunderstand the issues.

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(Caveat; I am reproducing the facts as I found them in various Blog Posts and sites regarding these issues. Because so many people have written about this, and so much of the information they provide is conflicting, I’m giving you my understanding of the facts – and only the facts – not opinions)

The Short Version

  1. A REALTOR named mark Rasmussen owned and used SarasotaMLS.com as a domain name. Over a period of years, he enjoyed a high SERP through the use of that name.
  2. A complaint was filed with the Sarasota Association of REALTORS, and an ethics hearing was held. The findings of Ethics hearings are not to be revealed to the public, so I cannot, with any authority tell you what happened there.
  3. A hearing was held before ICANN who found that  “(1) the domain name registered by the Respondent is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the Complainant has rights; (2) the Respondent has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the domain name; and (3) the domain name has been registered and is being used in bad faith.” (So it was the organization that monitors and adjudicates such things that made this decision not the Association)
  4. The Association is a non-profit organization that is not a competitor of Mark Rasmussen and gains no commercial advantage in owning the domain name, other than to prevent its use by a  member or non-member which might be detrimental to the entire membership of the Association.
  5. Mark Rasmussen is currently suing the Association to be allowed to use the domain name. His use of that domain name would prohibit anyone else from using the name, even if they may have the same or superior entitlement to use the name.

Its Not About the Letters MLS

I don’t know Mark Rasmussen nor do I know any member of SAR (at least I don’t think I do – if there is someone I have met who does belong to SAR, I’m sorry I didn’t remember your Association affiliation).

And there seems to be a lot of discussion about the letters MLS instead of what I think are the actual issues here.

  1. The findings of the Ethics hearing are a result of a specific hearing panel. One of the reasons such findings are not published is a fear that people might look to earlier panels findings and give the weight as establishing precedents, instead of allowing each new hearing to create its own set of findings
  2. I think the domain name sarasotamls.com is misleading. A reasonable consumer, clicking on a such a link, might reasonably conclude that they were going to an organizational website rather than a commercial website.
    1. In fairness I would note that Mr. Rasmussen had disclaimers added to his site at some point  to let people know that it was not an MLS site – but these would have been unnecessary if the consumer had not been mislead in the first place – making the point that somewhere along the line he realized that he was misleading people and wished to stop misleading them when he had accomplished his objective of obtaining web traffic.
  3. The fact that Mr. Rasmussen had invested money or spent time utilizing this site before there was clarification that such a misleading action might be unethical does not create some sort of exception to the ethical issue posed. In fact, if someone is doing something unethical (unknowingly) and it was not done in bad faith, wouldn’t they stop doing it when the ethical issue is raised?
  • As a second note, it might be asked if the issue here is merely one of the time and effort spent by Mr. Rasmussen to promote the sarasotamls.com shouldn’t he be able to duplicate his efforts with an equal amount of success?  While I sympathize with the amount of additional time and effort that might have to be spent to acquire the same position for his new site, doing things ethically is certainly worth it.

It Is Not David Vs. Goliath Here

So I thought I would see what happens when I typed the offending terms – and hgere is what I found.

So what’s the harm here? No competitor of Rasmussen is being aggrandized at his expense. All of the people who might comprise what the public understands as the sarasota mls are here.

Then, since part of the issue is the damage that Mr. Rasmussen might suffer to his business, I tried a few other common search terms – for example “Sarasota real estate”;

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Oddly enough, Mr. Rasmussen is still #1 and there’s a guy named Michael Saunders (about whom I have read nothing) who is number 2 – Watch this guy – we’ll see him again.

S0 then I checked out ‘ sarasota homes” Rasmussen #1 Michael Saunders #2

And then “Sarasota Properties” Rasmussen #4, Michael Saunders now #3

I could keep doing this but I think you get the idea. If people find you that easily on searching area, homes, properties and area real estate, why do you need the organizational URL with MLS in it? If people are looking for a real estate professional then these three phrases are probably among the best  – in fact here is a Google Keyword Search which indicates that Sarasota MLS is the thrid ranked of these four searchs, coming in  a bad third after “sarasota real estate” and “sarasota homes” as you can see below;

So let’s we get some focus on this issue – its not free speech, its not restraint of trade, the guy is still high ranking on Google, and obviously is not being hurt by the loss of this domain. In fact, his competitor Michael Saunders seems to get great placement without all the hearings and litigation.

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So can we agree that if ICANN – who is not a real estate related entity and has no allegiance to NAR or SAR, believes this type of URL is confusing to the public, it just might be confusing to the public?  I understand that we don’t like to give up what we have worked on, or to find out that we are going down the wrong road in our marketing efforts, but Isn’t it still important to do the right thing?

Written By

Bill is an unusual blend of Old & New - The CEO Century 21 Advantage Gold (Philadelphia's Largest Century 21 company and BuzzBuilderz (a Social Media Marketing Company), He is a Ninja CEO, blending the Web 1 and 2.0 world together in a fashion that stretches the fabric of the universe. You can follow him on twitter @Billlublin or Facebook or LinkedIn.

46 Comments

46 Comments

  1. BawldGuy

    October 19, 2008 at 3:41 pm

    Bill — Who owns the MLS and its use as part of a site’s url?

  2. Jim Lee

    October 19, 2008 at 4:47 pm

    I don’t want to start a fight either or rehash old stuff BUT; what if the person owning the URL in question had asked their association’s AE AND NAR’s legal department before buying a domain name with MLS in it and received both their OKs to do so and then several years down the road be told it’s now not OK after spending thousands of dollars and countless hours getting it positioned to a top search engine spot.???

  3. Bob

    October 19, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    Just a few points and questions:
    1) There is no longer any Sarasota MLS.
    2) The COE was modified after the fact.
    3) This is not an issue of Realtor ethics as it is NOT unethical in San Diego and in many areas across the country for other Realtors to do the same. Why the dichotomy? Why did NAR make this “ethical’ issue opt in?

    SAR feels the need to confiscate a domain to protect an entity that doesn’t exist, yet NAR never does that. Do you think SAR is right to do that, and if so, shouldn’t you recommend that NAR follow suit, given your position with NAR?

    If Marc has to surrender his url, why not all those with “Realtor” in the url, like RealtorGenius? I’m betting that if the only claim to a Realtor trademark was one issued by the State of Texas, AG would still be RG.

    With Marc, there was no Federal trademark and they couldn’t get one today if they tried.

    Given that protected farming is considered restriction of trade, do you really think a Federal court would rule in favor of NAR in a lawsuit brought by many of it’s members over a term that may not even apply in a few years?

  4. Norm Fisher

    October 19, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Interesting, but I’m confused. Is MLS not a registered trademark in the U.S.? The Canadian Real Estate Association owns it in Canada and prohibits its use in URLs by members, and they have been known to protect the trademark where it has been used by non-members.

  5. Bill Lublin

    October 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm

    @Bawldguy; I don’t know who owns the acronym, but ownership is really not the issue. Even the use of the acronym MLS is not a problem if the URL is not misleading – its about presenting a true picture to the consumer.
    However the point I wanted to make here is that the whole issue seems to be much ado about nothing since the other URLs owned by the agent seem to place really high in the most searched keywords in the agent’s market. In fact the other agent whose placement I point out achieved similar rankings with his non-controversial URLs

  6. BawldGuy

    October 19, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Thanks Bill.

  7. Bill Lublin

    October 19, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    Bob: Let me try to respond to the points you made:
    YOU SAID:
    1) There is no longer any Sarasota MLS.
    That doesn’t address the fact that the use of that term is misleading since it would indicate to the consumer that they were going to an organizational site rather than a commercial site. In addition, there is a successor organization. However the issue of misleading the public is more significant in my opinion.

    YOU SAID:
    2) The COE was modified after the fact.
    That is actually a very common error – Article 12 , the “true picture” article was not in fact changed, nor was the obligation of members under the article. What was created was a case study to clarify the use of potentially misleading URLs.

    YOU SAID:
    3) This is not an issue of Realtor ethics as it is NOT unethical in San Diego and in many areas across the country for other Realtors to do the same. Why the dichotomy? Why did NAR make this “ethical’ issue opt in?

    Actually the Code of Ethics is the same for REALTORS all over the country. The enforcement of the Code is implemented by local associations since that allows the local associations to review the facts of each case and apply their knowledge of local law and practice.

    In fact no Board is allowed to selectively choose the articles of the code that they wish to enforce. Each Association addresses the complaints it receives on a case by case basis, so your statement is probably not accurate- perhaps the San Diego Association has not had complaints regarding this issue, but even if they had, each complaint would be handled individually and decided on the merits of that case.

    YOU SAID:
    SAR feels the need to confiscate a domain to protect an entity that doesn’t exist, yet NAR never does that. Do you think SAR is right to do that, and if so, shouldn’t you recommend that NAR follow suit, given your position with NAR?

    SAR’s decision is just that. Their decision. Without being privy to their decision making process, its really difficult for me to have an opinion. As I pointed out in the post, there is no commercial benefit to them, so I would imagine that whatever the decision making process was, it was probably motivated by what they perceive to be in the best interest of the majority of their members.

    As far as anything that NAR should or shouldn’t do , I can’t comment. NAR has a great leadership team and terrific staff who spend huge amounts of time considering what is in the best interests of the members and the organization. All of that stuff is way above my pay grade.

    Anything that I write here has nothing to do with my position with NAR – I write here as an individual REALTOR and state my opinions privately (albeit with a bunch of experience)

    YOU SAID:
    If Marc has to surrender his url, why not all those with “Realtor” in the url, like RealtorGenius? I’m betting that if the only claim to a Realtor trademark was one issued by the State of Texas, AG would still be RG.

    Now you’re outside the Article 12 and the Code and are talking about trademark law. I’m not an attorney, and I don’t think the argument stands- you’re now comparing apples and oranges. But again, the issue here is the consumer’s expectations, not trademark law.

    YOU SAID:
    With Marc, there was no Federal trademark and they couldn’t get one today if they tried.

    Once again, that’s really not the issue. Misleading the consumer is the issue. Remember that the URL decision was made by ICANN, not NAR and THEY determined that the use of the URL was confusing to the consumer.

    YOU SAID:
    Given that protected farming is considered restriction of trade, do you really think a Federal court would rule in favor of NAR in a lawsuit brought by many of it’s members over a term that may not even apply in a few years?

    I don’t understand the question. I’m not even sure what you mean when you say “protected farming is considered restriction of trade”. However NAR is not a party to this problem. The lawsuit is being brought by Rasmussen, not by SAR, and I don’t understand what a group of members would be suing NAR over.

  8. Bill Lublin

    October 19, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    Norm:
    You guys in the great white north were obviously more sensitive to the need to trademark the term. We didn’t. However you guys are also clever enough to have the Shaw Festival each year- Great event – and just another reason to love our northern neighbors!

  9. Bill Lublin

    October 19, 2008 at 8:22 pm

    Jim: Without knowing what the specific conversation was with either person, it would be tough for me to answer your question- after all without a transcript or a response in writing, we can’t really know what was said -however on a practical level , as I pointed out above, the placement benefit doesn’t seem to be a result fo the use of the term as much as the benefit of the SEO work done. And if the agent spent time and money, but misleads the consumer- is that OK?

  10. Tony Sena

    October 20, 2008 at 1:01 am

    Wanted to point out a few things since your facts are a little off. Marc’s website is not SarasotaMLS.com but it’s TheSarasotaMLS.com.

    Secondly the reason Marc is ranking so well with his new website is because he did whats called a 301 redirect. If you type in TheSarasotaMLS.com it will redirect to his new website.

    I can assure you that if I was in Marc’s situation, I would be suing SAR as well!!!

    On a side note, this link, https://www.realtor.org/rmoprint.nsf/pages/AskMrIn200202221 is to an article that was written in 2002 and it was encouraged to get a good domain name and one of the domain names that was suggested was “locationMLS.com”. I hope not to many real estate agents took the advice from this guy that was published in our very own REALTOR Magazine!!!! If you did, your association might just come after you!

  11. Rich Jacobson

    October 20, 2008 at 2:05 am

    With as much time as we spend taking CE classes on Ethics, you’ think that eventually something would finally sink in! We all need to be more ‘Consumer-Centric’ in all of our thought processes and marketing efforts. What is best for them?

  12. Marc Rasmussen

    October 20, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Bill,

    Thanks for the article. I have to make a few corrections and comments:

    1) I own thesarasotamls.com, not sarasotamls.com

    2) I contacted NAR and FAR (Florida Association of Realtors) via telephone prior to buying the domain name. Both of them said that there was nothing in their code or rules stipulating that there was anything wrong with the domain name.

    3) In 2002 Mr. Internet wrote an article in Realtor magazine (NAR published) that recommended people buy citymls.com domain names. Article – https://www.realtor.org/rmoprint.nsf/pages/AskMrIn200202221. At that time, this practice was considered good faith. I purchased the domain because I thought that having MLS in it would make me rank better when people were searching the phrase “Sarasota MLS”. I didn’t use that domain name because I wanted to fool anyone. Once you hit my website it is obvious that I was not trying to deceive anyone into thinking that they were at the Sarasota MLS.

    4) You mention my good rankings with several search phrases – sarasota real estate, sarasota homes, sarasota properties. My new domain is only ranking well for those phrases because I performed a 301 redirect of thesarasotamls.com to http://www.luxurysarasotarealestate.com. All of the authority that I have built up over the years is flowing into my new domain name. If I lose the thesarasotamls.com and thus the 301 redirect I will lose these rankings.

    5) Most recently I was averaging about 700 visitors a day to my website. In the last 12 months that would mean over 250,000 visitors. I have never received one complaint from the public about feeling mislead. SAR also cannot provide one complaint.

    6) You said, “why do you need the organizational URL with MLS in it?” – I don’t. I can rank well without having MLS in my domain name as long as I maintain ownership of thesarasotamls.com. I am just trying to maintain ownership of the domain name that I have spend thousands of dollars and hours on optimizing over the last 5 years. I have already redirected it so the domain name will eventually fall out of the search results.

    How can someone be misled if they can’t find the domain name?

  13. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Bill,
    Apparently you are not well informed on how search engines work. Please see Marc’s response sections 4 and 6 in prior comments.

    Marc is getting such a groundswell of support from internet savvy REALTORS for several reasons:

    1) Most if not all of them get REALTOR Magazine and were cognizant of the Mr. Internet recommendations that were made within “the” official publication of NAR.

    2) They are all very aware of the years of work writing relevant content, sculpting sites, creating pages, blogging, and building relationships necessary for good search engine results.

    3) They are all aware that having kewords such as “sarasota mls” within a domain name while helpful is not necessary for high rankings.

    4) They are all aware that the efforts from the years of work in point #2 all resides within the links that point to the domain that was being used in good faith. The domain is almost like a depository of value with the value bein the incoming links.

    5) They are all aware that you are incorrect about your points that Marc’s rankings without the thesarasotamls domain will still be great. They are knowledgeable that those rankings come from the years of daily efforts by Marc and the value of his site again is built into the thousands of votes of faith in the website giving it relevance for those search terms. It is in fact the redirect from the old domain name that is making the new domain rank. It has nothing to do with the “words” of the old domain, but the votes of confidence being the incoming links to the old domain.

    6) Marc is fine with getting the old domain “words” to disappear with the redirect. What he is not fine with and what we all support him with is that he should be able to keep the old domain redirect so that he does not lose years of work simply from following a NAR publications recommendations.

    In your screenshots, Marc’s entries have (as all do) a Page Title, a Page Description, and a Link. Marc’s Page Title and Page Description are no way misleading to the public and if the name of the link at the bottom of the entries somehow subliminaly has mislead the public into thinking they were going anywhere other than to Marc Rasmussens site, then they were morons and don’t fall into the category of a “reasonable person”.

    The solution here is for Marc to stop using the old domain name, but still be allowed to keep the redirect benefits of the old domain that house the value of his many years of effort. Any other solution would be robbery of Marc’s currency from his depository, or perhaps better stated as Marc will have his money confiscated by an NAR subsidiary for placing his deposits within an NAR recommended bank.

    Again, Marc is getting support from those that know the many thousands of hours of effort he has expended first hand and they support him as a friend and a fellow REALTOR, but they also are standing up for what they think is right.

    Your article is titled “I don’t want to start a fight, but”. We are not here to fight, we are here to support. Marc has to single handedly fight a costly battle on his own dime against his own well funded Association simply to keep from having years of effort taken from him with the push of an “ENTER” key at ICANN.

    Bill, if it were you facing the same scenario with the same facts I would be supporting you too!

    Too bad all we can do to help Marc is to blog about the Sarasota Association of REALTORS. Too bad the Association won’t simply allow him to have the redirect and then we could all go do something more constructive.

  14. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 8:54 am

    Tony – Thanks for the clarification. I apologize for the error.

    Marc: Thank you also for the clarification and taking the time to explain your position. I appreciate the point you make about Michael Russer’s article and the information about the manner in which you proceeded originally when you set your site up.

  15. Jay Thompson

    October 20, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Bill –

    You know (I hope) that I respect the hell out of you. But you are incorrect in your assessment that losing the domain name won’t have an impact on Marc’s search ranking.

    It is abundantly clear to a reasonable person when they land on Marc’s site that they are not on the association’s site. If anyone honestly thinks the public is going to confuse Marc’s site with the association or MLS site, then they are giving absolutely zero credit to the public’s intelligence. Marc’s site is clearly the site of a Realtor, not an association.

    You wrote:

    “The Association is a non-profit organization that is not a competitor of Mark Rasmussen and gains no commercial advantage in owning the domain name, other than to prevent its use by a member or non-member which might be detrimental to the entire membership of the Association.”

    How is the use of “thesarasotamls.com” detrimental to the entire membership of the Association?

    If the Association gains no commercial advantage in owning the name, then what could possibly be wrong with letting Marc keep the name,and 301 re-directing it to his other domain, thereby keeping all he has worked for.

    his competitor Michael Saunders seems to get great placement without all the hearings and litigation.

    That’s probably because Mr. Saunders has put in the same level of blood, sweat and tears into hos site that Marc has. It’s not the domain name that got Marc’s site to rank how it does. It’s all the effort put into building that site. And sadly, all that effort will be for naught because the Sarasota MLS won’t just allow a simple re-direct.

    As a second note, it might be asked if the issue here is merely one of the time and effort spent by Mr. Rasmussen to promote the sarasotamls.com shouldn’t he be able to duplicate his efforts with an equal amount of success?

    Bill, with all due respect, this is an absurd argument. Sure, he could duplicate it with an equal amount of work. Let’s wipe out everything Bill Lublin has done in the last five years. You could just spend another five years doing all that work all over again — and get back to where you are today. Of course you’ll never get back those lost five years.

    Let’s take away Coca-Cola’s secret formula. They could just come up with something else that tastes good, spend more money marketing that, and build a new brand. Maybe someone will come along and take Nike’s “swoosh”. No big deal, Nike can just spend the time and money all over again and rebuild their business. Extreme examples, yes. But valid none-the-less. Asking someone to “just start all over” is ridiculous when by your own admission, the Sarasota MLS doesn’t need that domain name.

    If the Sarasota MLS was so concerned with protecting their trademark and their membership, why haven’t they secured a plethora of domain names that are very similar to the one in dispute?

    sarasota-mls.com redirects to an agent’s site. Huh, that’s exactly what Marc is asking for. Guess it’s OK for one agent but not another. What (other than superior search rankings and a hyphen) is the difference between Marc and the agent that bought, controls, and redirects Sarasota-MLS.com?

    TheSarasotaMLS.net, TheSarasotaMLS.info, and TheSarasotaMLS.org are still available for purchase. Why hasn’t the Sarasota MLS spent $20.97 to secure these domain names? If the .com version is so damaging to their membership and deceiving to the public, aren’t these too?

    The-Sarasota-MLS domain is available in .com, .info, .net, and .org versions.

    I’m struggling here Bill why all these domains (and more) that supposedly can do so much damage to the membership and are so deceiving to the public are just lying there for the taking.

  16. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 9:10 am

    @Gulfshorelife;
    Its really difficult respond to much of what you wrote, since it relates to opinions, and though these are obviously things you feel strongly about, I don’t feel that I can say that opinions of this type are right or wrong – whether I agree with them or disagree with them.

    I would point out to you that Local Associations are not subsidiaries of NAR. They are independent organizations run by their own staff, membership, and leadership team.

    It does seem that part if the issue, understandably, is that Marc doesn’t want to start over again to build traffic to his current site. I’m not sure how I feel about that – I guess only time (and the outcome of the current litigation) will determine if that will be the case.

  17. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Jay;
    You know I love you too – and you know that I know that you know more about web placement than I.
    😉

    I understand the points you make, and the position from which you make them. And I agree with you that the consumer landing on the site now would be aware that they were not on an organizational site (though I wonder what the bounce rate is for the site as opposed to another site with the same effort put into it that didn’t have that type of URL) – and all of that seems to be in the past of this issue anyway –

    As far as wiping out everything that has happened to me in the last five years, and starting over again, if we can limit it to two years (or possibly three) maybe we can talk about that.
    🙂

    Just kidding – but there was some benefit generated from the web site during that time period so its not quite the same- however your point is well taken and I understand the problem that Marc would face and why he would not want to face that job again from scratch,

    There is one answer that I think we might consider to the question “How is the use of thesarasotamls.com” detrimental to the entire membership of the Association?” And that is that no other individual or group of individuals who might be entitled to the use of that name can use it – now how that might be detrimental, or what the impact of that might be is something for far savvier people than I to determine – but it is what occurs to me – it might however be a non-issue – you would probably know better than me.

    I also don’t understand the difference between Marc and the agent that bought, controls, and redirects Sarasota-MLS.com? As I said early in the post, I don’t know anyone at SAR, and my guess is with the current litigation, it might be difficult for them to answer outside the courtroom.

    As far as your final statement “I’m struggling here Bill why all these domains (and more) that supposedly can do so much damage to the membership and are so deceiving to the public are just lying there for the taking.” I gotta tell ya – I’m scratching my head too-

  18. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 9:31 am

    @Bill –

    “Marc doesn’t want to start over again to build traffic to his current site. I’m not sure how I feel about that” – see Jay Thompson post above.

    “Local Associations are not subsidiaries of NAR. They are independent organizations run by their own staff, membership, and leadership team.” – they are parading about under the banner of “Association of REALTORS” a trademark of the National Association of REALTORS. Perhaps they are independent – I would dare to continue to say they they are a subsidiary organization.

    “Opinions” – that is what Marc is dealing with on the flip side!
    Point 1) Fact
    Point 2) Fact
    Point 3) Fact
    Point 4) Fact
    Point 5) Fact
    Point 6) My opinion is that Marc would be ammenable to this. Posts he has made seem to confirm this. Shall I contact him to verify it is a fact? Perhaps he would post a comment confirming whether this is fact or not.

    I encourage Jay Thompson to respond in confirming Points 1 through 5 as fact in that he is a widely known authority on internet search engines, real estate sites, and blogging. I will gladly acknowledge any points he finds flawed or not factual.

    Would some other internet authority or tech savvy REALTOR point out what is fact and what is opinion in my comment!

  19. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 10:08 am

    @Bill –
    I quote you – “And that is that no other individual or group of individuals who might be entitled to the use of that name can use it – ”

    How about:

    thissarasotamls.com
    thatsarasotamls.com
    billsarasotamls.com
    bobsarasotamls.com
    oursarasotamls.com
    hissarasotamls.com
    asarasotamls.com
    anothersarasotamls.com
    flsarasotamls.com
    floridasarasotamls.com

    Sarasota is a place name and can not be trademarked.

    MLS is a generic term associated with many different databases known as “multiple listings service” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiple_listings_service

    If there is any trademark to MLS as far as Multiple Listings Services go, they have been entirely genericized – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genericized_trademark

    Some classic examples of genericized terms would be:
    Aspirin
    Band Aid
    Jello
    Crockpot
    Frisbee
    Kerosene
    Kleenex
    Pilates
    Tupperware
    Xerox
    Ziploc
    Zipper
    and the most staggering one of all is SPAM – a very well protected brand name of Hormel Foods that was totally lost by casual useage on the internet.

    I highly recommend everyone read this entry thoroughly in regards to the subject matter –
    3.4 Trademark – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain#Trademark
    3.5 Domain name – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_domain#Domain_name

  20. Brian Wilson

    October 20, 2008 at 10:57 am

    I agree with Jay. It is clear to every person who visits https://thesarasotamls.com and gets redirected to his site that it is not an association site. Everyone knows that if it were an association site, it would have the standard characteristics:

    1. It would make viewers spend about 7-8 minutes to search for and find where they can actually do a home search and then require about 4-5 clicks and disclaimer pages before they get to the page.

    2. When you finally did a home search it would withhold non-essential information like the property’s address or description. There would only be one picture.

    3. The content on the homepage would be copy from 1999.

    4. There would be some message on the site along the lines of “It is a great time to buy!”

    yes, I am with the agent on this one… no jury of his peers would ever look at his site and confuse it for a minute with a public-facing MLS or association site.

  21. Jay Thompson

    October 20, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    @Gulfshoreslife (BTW, AgentGenius is nofollow, so you might as well use your real name – I assume this is Cal?)

    Point 1) Not so sure. You’re making the assumption that web savvy agents read Realtor Magazine. I don’t know if that is a safe assumption. But, I think the article is a pertinent point of topic. The SAR CEO has commented elsewhere along the lines of it means nothing because there is a disclaimer in Realtor Magazine. I find it interesting that they freely ignore Russer’s article because of a disclaimer, then turn around and give Marc zero credit for having a disclaimer himself. That, in my opinion smacks of hypocrisy.

    If you are referring to truly web savvy agents (and you were) then I’d say yes, your points 2 – 5 are indeed factual.

    And I’m virtually certain your point 6 is factual, though only Marc could say for sure (but I’m almost certain I read this from him somewhere.)

  22. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Gulfshorelife:

    You can choose to continue to call Local Associations subsidiaries, you would just be incorrect.
    A subsidiary is defined by Merriam Webster as “:a company wholly controlled by another”.
    Each local Association, though affiliated with their state and the National Association of REALTORS are operated by their own staff, membership, and leadership teams. Therefore by definition they are not subsidiaries.

    In terms of what is fact and what is opinion, I thought I might explain to you why I said they were opinions
    1. How do you know what people read and how they interpret it?
    This is obviously your opinion of their knowledge – and that’s not a fact
    2. Again, how would you know what other people know?
    This is obviously your opinion of their knowledge – and that’s not a fact
    3. Again you’re imputing your opinion to a group without any direct empirical knowledge of what they believe
    That makes this your opinion of their knowledge – and that’s not a fact
    4. Again you’re imputing your opinion to a group without any knowledge of what they believe – whether your statement is a fact about SEO is another story – and one that I can’t answer – your statement leads me to believe that this is the only way SEO works, and I’m just not sure about that.
    5.Same as above – you’re imputing your opinion to a group without any knowledge of what they believe
    That makes this your opinion of their knowledge – and that’s not a fact
    6. Marc’s position, whether you have stated it accurately or not, is not a fact, it is a position – and one that he has every right to – whether he prevails or not is a matter for the court to determine.

    As I said in the title, I don’t want to start a fight – but stating something firmly and with an air of authority doesn’ t make it a fact – it just makes it a firmly stated opinion. Though a portion of your statements contain facts, they are all stated as opinions, and as I said in my earlier response to you I don’t feel that I can say that opinions of this type are right or wrong – whether I agree with them or disagree with them.

  23. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Gulfshore – You quoted me out of context – I was responding to Jay’s question as quoted below

    “There is one answer that I think we might consider to the question “How is the use of thesarasotamls.com” detrimental to the entire membership of the Association?” And that is that no other individual or group of individuals who might be entitled to the use of that name can use it – now how that might be detrimental, or what the impact of that might be is something for far savvier people than I to determine – but it is what occurs to me – it might however be a non-issue – you would probably know better than me.”

    As you can see from reading the entire answer – I’m not making that statement as my opinion, but as the only potential answer I could think of to jay’s question – and you will notice that I question whether the answer has validity – I only mentioned it as part of the discussion –

    As far as generic terms go, there is no argument here and there was no discussion about the ownership of the term MLS – You’re picking a fight with yourself here.

    As far as the list of domain names,. I refer you to the answer to Jay’s question “As far as your final statement “I’m struggling here Bill why all these domains (and more) that supposedly can do so much damage to the membership and are so deceiving to the public are just lying there for the taking.”

    My answer was – (without listing the longer list of domain names you presented) ” I gotta tell ya – I’m scratching my head too-”

  24. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Jay; Thanks for the clarification – with the caveat that we are speaking about really knowledgeable people I can buy the facts as they were mentioned. I just have trouble with blanket statements.

    So am I correct that the point made here is that the use of the name thesarasotamls.com is really not the issue, but the benefit of the work done by Marc on the current site cannot be realized in any manner other than the redirection of that existing url?

  25. Jay Thompson

    October 20, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Bill – isn’t your post full of firmly stated opinion? So we can only debate fact and not opinion now? As the author of the post you are allowed to state your opinion but a commentor can’t? Am I supposed to just dismiss a significant portion of your post because it’s not fact? I don’t, because I respect you and am trying to see your side of this situation. Sorry, but I can’t. You’ve stated your opinion, and I disagree with it. GulfShoresLife stated his/her opinion too. And I say it’s OK for anyone to agree or disagree with it. But don’t just blow if off because it’s opinion and not “fact”.

    This is a very volatile subject Bill, that anyone who has spent a significant amount of time developing a web presence should be very concerned about. You are certainly free to chose who to respond to and who not to, but to dismiss valid comments because they contain opinion or “a position” and not facts as you define them just doesn’t seem right.

    The points GulfShoresLife made may not be rock solid fact. But come on Bill, a *truly* “web savvy” agent does understand the relative importance of a domain name,the importance of links, how much work it takes and the importance of other SEO aspects.

    And it’s crystal clear the Sarasota MLS decision makers do not.

    They don’t NEED the domain name. This whole mess could have been avoided by simply allowing Marc to 301 redirect that domain name.

    My guess, and this IS opinion but is is an educated guess based in the actions to date of the Sarasota MLS, is that they have no clue what a 301 redirect is, or does. If they did have a clue, they never would have gone down this road. The whole premise of this domain name deceiving the public and them doing their members a “service” by yanking it out from under ONE OF THEIR OWN MEMBERS is patently absurd.

    Bill, I’m pretty sure you understand some of the emotion a subject like this stirs up. And I for one am glad you wrote about it. But if you’re going to title it, “I Don’t Want To Start a Fight But” you’re probably going to get a “fight”. (I’d prefer to call it a debate”).

    Why is the SAR so quiet about this? Because it’s in the hands of lawyers now? Well that didn’t stop the SAR CEO from commenting on blog posts — yet she’s never come back to answer follow up questions. Nor to even say “under advice from an attorney I can’t talk about it”.

    The SAR is about to get a serious lesson in on-line reputation management. Their silence is deafening.

  26. Jim Duncan

    October 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    All opinions and debates aside, Brian Wilson’s comment wins.

  27. Jay Thompson

    October 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    “So am I correct that the point made here is that the use of the name thesarasotamls.com is really not the issue, but the benefit of the work done by Marc on the current site cannot be realized in any manner other than the redirection of that existing url?”

    It would seem the SAR is concerned with the use of the name. I base this on the findings published by ICANN.

    The way search engines treat domain names is (roughly) as a “bank” of “goodwill”. That goodwill is provided by links pointing to that domain name (primarily) as well as many other factors (yes, including keywords in the domain name), such as domain age, on-page content, tags etc.

    The problem is, if the SAR takes over ownership and removes the domain from Marcs control, then yes, he will lose practically all he has worked for. Yes, he could recreate some of that work, but it would take years of duplicated effort, and during that time Marc would be simply rebuilding, not improving his web-based presence.

    All the SAR has to do is allow the domain “TheSarasotaMLS.com” to be properly redirected to Marc’s new domain. Over time, search results for “TheSarasotaMLS” would be “transferred” to Marc’s new domain, and anything with “TheSarasotaMLS” would fall out of the search engines.

    Marc would have his work and effort protected, and no one would be going to “TheSarasotaMLS.com” site, or even see it in search engines.

    Seems like a win-win-win-win for Marc, the SAR, its members and the general public.

    As it stands now, the SAR is the only one that wins, as they get the results of all of Marc’s work.

    That’s why their decision is staggering and, in my opinion, absolutely and completely one-sided and selfish.

  28. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for standing up for me Jay!

    I think I am going to take my marbles on over to a playground where there are some genius’s that understand the web. Maybe I can learn some new “opinions”.

    Bill, you need to take your marbles over to Matt Cutts site so he can teach you how they can be taken away from you. Of course if you never have any marbles, you can’t loose them!

  29. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Jay you misunderstand the issue about opinion and fact.
    That whole thing started because I said Its really difficult respond to much of what you wrote, since it relates to opinions, and though these are obviously things you feel strongly about, I don’t feel that I can say that opinions of this type are right or wrong – whether I agree with them or disagree with them.

    I don’t have any problem with anyone’s opinions – and I wasn’t trying to blow them off, I was just saying that I couldn’t respond to them … and that led to their list and your comment and my comment – and so on and so forth etc etc…. You are 100% right anyone can voice their opinion – I just had a hard time responding to them because I didn’t feel that I had the knowledge to disagree with those opinions or to agree with them

    I would agree with you that if you are going to make a comment or write a post, you should stick around for questions and follow ups – and I don’t know why someone would engage and disengage without an explanation. You know that neither you nor I do that, and I can’t claim to understand the mindset of someone who does.

    As far as a fight – I really wasn’t looking to start one, and the title was to meant indicate that – I wanted to find some of the clarification that has been brought out in these comments. This is not a race I have a horse in – even though some of the commentators have tried to find me one to ride- that being said you know that I’m not one to run from a spirited debate –

    I do understand the emotions that this stirs up – and I can see that the absence of response can lead to conjecture fueled by those emotions- I just have a hard time ascribing malicious intent to either party as their motivation – but that’s just me.

  30. Jay Thompson

    October 20, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Bill – fair enough.

    Personally, I don’t think the SAR has malicious intent, nor do I think Marc did.

    I think that Marc did what he thought was the right thing to do, based on a widely known Internet expert, as printed in Realtor Magazine, and OK’ed by both NAR and FAR.

    I think SAR is simply ignorant about the “damage” a domain name has done and 301 redirects.

    Only the parties truly know what their intent is. I’ll probably be chastised for saying the SAR isn’t being malicious.

    But ignorance is no excuse either.

  31. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    My opinion is that Jay’s most recent comment is stuffed full of what I believe to be fact and what I was trying to communicate when I initially responded. My opinion is that most tech savvy agents would from experience agree that their opinion would lean towards Jays most recent comment as being fairly factual also – blah, blah, blah.

    The statement – ““So am I correct that the point made here is that the use of the name thesarasotamls.com is really not the issue, but the benefit of the work done by Marc on the current site cannot be realized in any manner other than the redirection of that existing url?”” in my opinion is very factual and though I can’t substantiate those facts I strongly believe as do many other tech savvy agents that it is a very accurate statement.

    Now can we get back to how the hell we can factually know that subatomic particles exist if we can’t see them? How do we prove these theories as fact? Will testing do the trick and does it become absolute? What if God Almighty was like the Google gods and changed the particle physics rules? Fact, fiction, opinion?

    SAR needs to give Marc the redirect and let this fade away into oblivion.

  32. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Jay; Thanks for that lesson in webology!
    You have provided me with a much clearer understanding of the mechanisms at play – and after your last post the circle has been completed and you and I agree once more –
    All is well in the universe 😉

  33. Missy Caulk

    October 20, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    I went and checked AnnArborMLS. It is a splog site, it is for sale. Owned by someone in Seattle, Ha not surprising. But, there are a few interesting ones available, I might buy.

    I’ve been following this all over the blogosphere, simply said it comes down to jealousy. Many agents here in Ann Arbor use MLS somewhere in their domain. No biggy……….IMO it is all comes down to jealousy.

    Marc did everything correctly by contacting NAR & FAR prior to buying the domain and working to promote it. MLS is not copyrighted. The decision to not allow a redirect is wrong.

    I support Marc, 100% and Jim is right the comment by Brian Wilson is perfect. I have served as a Director on my Board for 6 years, and he is right, I doubt they know what a 301 direct is.

    Bill, I appreciate your opinion and have great respect for you, but I just disagree with SAR on this one.

  34. Bill Lublin

    October 20, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Gulfshorelife:

    “Now can we get back to how the hell we can factually know that subatomic particles exist if we can’t see them? How do we prove these theories as fact? Will testing do the trick and does it become absolute? What if God Almighty was like the Google gods and changed the particle physics rules? Fact, fiction, opinion?”

    Beats me – that’s why I don’t argue about religion – 🙂

    Thanks for the suggestion to check out Matt Cutts blog – its new to me but its already got me hooked-

    @Missy Caulk – You know how much respect I have for you as well – and you didn’t even need to preface your statement – I have to say that I’m not trying to choose a side in this – but I have been getting quite an education 😉

    BTW I liked Brian’s comment as well – just didn’t want to give him too many props 😉

  35. Gulfshoreslife

    October 20, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Bill,
    I think if the SAR Board had sought to understand then we would have never gotten to this point.

    It is very difficult to explain how simple the fix is to those that don’t understand and sadly the persons serving on many of the boards fall into the category of not understanding.

    Now that you understand how all of Marcs efforts reside in the domain name and that a simple 301 redirect should resolve the conflict if there is no ulterior motive from SAR, we (Marc’s supporters) would appreciate your support too, if possible. 🙂

  36. Bob

    October 21, 2008 at 8:28 am

    The confusion argument is nonsense. Since E Realty vs AOR and the advent of VOWs and IDX, the consumer has been nothing but confused when it comes to the public display of listings and what is and is not the MLS.

    I just have a hard time ascribing malicious intent to either party as their motivation

    SAR only went after the one agent who refused to lay down. When he did agree to take the url offline, that wasn’t good enough. They went after the domain. That was punitive, if not malicious.

    In fact no Board is allowed to selectively choose the articles of the code that they wish to enforce. Each Association addresses the complaints it receives on a case by case basis, so your statement is probably not accurate- perhaps the San Diego Association has not had complaints regarding this issue, but even if they had, each complaint would be handled individually and decided on the merits of that case.

    I’m confused here. I know for a fact that complaints have been filed against agents using “MLS” in their domains in San Diego. The local associations here have claimed that NAR left it up to the local boards to decide whether or not that would be enforced. How is that not selective?

    On a side note, thank you for having the courage to engage and make this post.

  37. Bob

    October 21, 2008 at 8:43 am

    From Inman:

    While NAR’s Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice applies to all Realtors, NAR’s board of directors in November 2007 approved an optional policy that Realtor-operated MLSs can choose to adopt that restricts subscribers’ use of “MLS” and related terms.

    That optional policy allows — but does not require — MLSs to block the use of “MLS” and “Multiple Listing Service” in subscribers’ Web site addresses, company names, e-mail addresses and other marketing efforts. Several MLSs already had similar policies in place.

    Again, how is this optional policy not selective? It is either unethical or it is not. Clearly, not even the ‘affiliated’ Realtor boards are in agreement as to whether this issue is even an issue.

    SAR wouldn’t have won the ICANN decision on a state trademark alone.

    You know what really stinks about all this?

    It is that Marc is found innocent of an ethics violation and his using that finding to defend himself is used against him by SAR to show ICANN that he really is unethical, which was cited in the ICANN decision.

  38. Dennis Pease

    October 22, 2008 at 12:52 am

    “My guess, and this IS opinion but is is an educated guess based in the actions to date of the Sarasota MLS, is that they have no clue what a 301 redirect is, or does. If they did have a clue, they never would have gone down this road. The whole premise of this domain name deceiving the public and them doing their members a “service” by yanking it out from under ONE OF THEIR OWN MEMBERS is patently absurd.”

    My guess is that SAR does know what a 301 redirect is since they gained control of thesarasotamls.com today and immediately had it redirected to their website.

    My opinion is that SAR opened a can of worms they will regret in the end. My opinion is they will learn a quick lesson in online reputation management, the hard way; How Not To Do It.

  39. Gulfshoreslife

    November 2, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Bill,
    Now it is time to reread your post, observe your graphics with the red arrows andsearch terms and results. Then read through the comments again that were considered opinion and not fact. Then Google Marc Rasmussen and see what the number one result is – https://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4GWYE_enUS291US291&q=marc+rasmussen

    The whole URL word myth is now exposed. SAR ranks #1 for “Marc Rasmussen” with absolutely no mention of Marc Rasmussen on theie site or in their domain name. Not only has SAR stolen Marc’s URL and hard work, they have stolen his good name!

  40. Jay Thompson

    November 2, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Personally, I think what the SAR did is absolutely criminal.

    The SAR now ranks #1 for the search term “Marc Rasmussen”.

    Yeah, they’ve really protected their membership and the general public.

  41. Ryan Ward

    November 2, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    What is most absurd to me is that NAR has yet to lose the language that started this mess to begin with. In my opinion, it is more unethical to dissallow NAR members to present the information found in local MLS systems for competitive keywords and allow only non-NAR people to use those terms.

    Really.

    Which would protect consumers better? A website showing MLS information that is operated by a REALTOR or a website run anyone who can rank for the term?

    It’s time for the NAR to straighten this mess out and re-amend (not sure that’s a word) Article 12.

    My uncle could have a website with “mls” in it, but, as a REALTOR I can’t. Makes no sense whatsoever.

    Oh, and MLS is trademarked by this organization – you may have heard of them – Major League Soccer.

    What’s next that I can’t use? Homes? IDX? Real Estate? Seriously, this change in the rule hurts members and potentially hurts consumers by not allowing us to compete.

  42. Ned Carey

    November 11, 2008 at 11:45 pm

    Firstly let me say I am impressed that this blog actually has a category for ethics. I this we don’t have enough of that in this world so I am glad to see it discussed

    Dennis said,
    >SAR does know what a 301 redirect is since they gained control of thesarasotamls.com today and immediately had it redirected to their website.

    Well I think an ethics complaint is due against the Sarasota association of Realtors. They have redirected the domain. This means they are now deliberately deceiving consumers. They are without permission, redirecting anyone who intended to go to Marc’s site. Is that ethical?

    This SAR is wrong, period. ICANN got this wrong. There is a legal principal called promissory estoppel. It means if someone acts in good faith based on a second parties assurances the second party can’t later complain.

    But you don’t have to know fancy legal terms to know it is wrong to say it is OK to do something, and then later come back and say we changed our minds.

    Jay said
    >Personally, I think what the SAR did is absolutely criminal.

    If the facts the Marc has reported here are true then you are absolutely right.

    Ned Carey

  43. Matthew Thompson

    November 27, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    None of you people know what you are talking about. Had Mark had a good lawyer to illustrate that latches were in place I assure you that Mark would have prevailed. I had an ICANN dispute filed against me for the exact same bullcrap, and I stomped a mudhole in my opponents face. Where the heck is Mark’s paypal address? I want to send him some money to help him sue this nasty Sarasota Association of Realtors into bankruptcy.

  44. Jay Thompson

    November 27, 2009 at 6:39 pm

    Matthew wrote: “None of you people know what you are talking about”

    Well, at least we were talking about it when it happened and not chiming in over a year after the fact…

  45. KeyWestMLS

    December 11, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    There are a lot of opinions expressed with very little research.
    The majority of MLS sites are NOT owned or operated by real estate boards.
    So to conclude that the term is misleading to the public is ridiculous.

    The term ‘MLS’ professional jargon originally adopted by realtors to save their breath instead of saying the term ‘Multiple Listings Service’.There are NO copyrights or trademarks for this term nor is it more importantly a term invented by the N.A.R. The N.A.R invented the term REALTOR in the nineteen fifty’s. Of course they could not foresee another term being invented by their members that was synonymous with where all of the real estate information/data comes from that prospective buyers could peruse.

    It’s not even remotely related to a code of ethics. Money is the only reason the NAR is interested interested in the term MLS. The Term ‘MLS’ is now a $econd tier buyer’s search phase which the NAR wants to regulate. So it took the NAR over 10 years to figure out that they messed up!

    It’s all a bunch of sour grapes by a greedy, power hungry association called the NAR, grow up and stop your crying NAR or your past experience with Clayton Anti Trust laws will come back to haunt you. Do the words coercive monopoly mean anything to you!

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