Copyright infringements can be notoriously expensive, and they can damage the reputation of your business. In this post, we discuss copyright infringement issues in the real estate industry and include practical examples to help you know exactly what steps to take to help avoid such action against your business.
What copyright infringement issues should a real estate agent be aware of?
According to an article written about copyright by the National Association of Realtors1, professionals who work in real estate should be particularly vigilant with respect to property photographs as well as listing content. This is due to the fact that original works of authorship are copyrighted, and while one may assume that a property owner holds the copyright of property images, in many cases, it can be a professional photographer or another real estate agency who holds the rights. If a realtor not expressly obtain written permission from the copyright holder to use the content or images, then he or she could be held accountable for copyright infringement.
Who ‘owns’ the copyright to property photographs?
Under the Federal Copyright Act of 1976, from the moment the shot is taken, photographs are protected by copyright. As an original work of authorship, the owner of the photograph will typically be the person who took the photograph unless an agreement, such as a work for hire or other agreed upon transfer of ownership is established. In certain situations, and under specific terms in the contract, a photographer’s employer could also be the owner of the pictures. But usually when a photographer is hired to takes pictures by an individual or a company, the photographer owns the copyright.
As you can see, the lines of ownership are easily blurred. Contrary to popular belief, the subject of the image does not usually change copyright ownership. Likewise, just because a person or entity pays for or commissions a photo this does not change the copyright ownership. In order to transfer copyright ownership from the photographer to another entity, this would need to be done in writing, and the copyright owner would need to sign to confirm they authorize the transfer of ownership.
How to Avoid Copyright Infringement
Displaying images of properties is a fundamental part of real estate marketing. Potential buyers depend on these images to make informed decisions about which properties they will or will not view.
Before using property photographs or other elements of real estate marketing, you need to make sure you know the rights you have to the content in question. To help you avoid issues with copyright infringement:
Make sure you audit your utilization of all listing images to make sure you are fully compliant with any agreements with your photographer.
Review all of your agreements to determine what right you have for any images or brand marketing.
Always keep a documented record of any conveyed or granted rights and any agreements.
Have a clear understanding of how you intend to use property photographs to ensure all agreements include the proper terminology and intended purpose.
If you don’t have a written agreement covering the image then do not use them, unless you took them yourself.
If you have questions about your rights as a real estate agent, or you are a photographer who is concerned that someone is infringing on your copyright, please contact us at 888-666-0062 to schedule a consultation.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for obtaining legal advice from an attorney.