This article presents a brief explanation on the importance of registering your MLS database with the United States Copyright Office, and also provides guidance on the registration process. By registering your database, your MLS will receive the maximum protections afforded by law.
I. Why Seek Copyright Registration for Your Electronic Database?
A copyright is a right granted by federal law which gives the creators of particular works the right to control the copying of their works for a specific time period. Copyright protection is available as soon as a work is created in a fixed form. In general, registration is not required to obtain copyright protection nor is the use of a copyright symbol (©) required. However, registration of your copyright and indicating to the public that you are the copyright holder (such as by using the © symbol) will make it much easier to protect your copyrighted works from infringement. Registration of a copyright establishes a public record of copyright ownership, and is a requirement before bringing an infringement lawsuit for works of U.S. origin. There are also other advantages to prompt registration of a copyright, including the right to receive attorney’s fees in successful litigation.
Electronic databases, like a MLS database, are entitled to copyright protection. The United States Copyright Office defines an electronic, or “automated,” database as a collection of facts, data, or other information which is one or more files organized into a format usable by a computer. These compilations of data are entitled to copyright protection because they are original works that organize existing information into a unique format or arrangement.
Several court cases have found MLS databases to be entitled to copyright protection:
- Supermarket of Homes v. San Fernando Valley BOR: Federal Court Finds Copyright Violation by Member for Distribution of MLS Listings Without Permission From Board
- Property America Case Settles
- United States Supreme Court Rules That Creativity Is Necessary Element to Protect Copyright of Compilation - Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service Co.
- Texas Court Finds Requisite Originality to Grant Copyright Protection to MLS Compilation - Real Data Inc. v. Houston Association of REALTORS®
- Tax Maps Can Receive Copyright Protection If They Are Original Compilations of Facts - Suffolk v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc.
- Publishers May Publish Freelance Articles On-line and on CD-ROM - Tasini v. New York Times
II. How Do You Register Your Electronic Database?
The United States Copyright Office is where you register your electronic database. The Copyright Office has created “Circular 65” (downloadable from the Copyright Office’s website), which explains the registration process for “automated databases,” like a MLS database. You can also download the necessary forms from the Copyright Office’s website.
Registering your MLS database is a simple process. First, you will need to download or obtain Application Form TX from the Copyright Office (form is available on website). You will then need to complete the form and send it, a check for $45 (this fee may change annually, so check the Copyright Office site), and a deposit which is “representative of the updates/revisions being registered.” In general, the deposit requires a submission of 50 records which are representative of the database. This will generally be the view which displays all the different categories of information collected for each property. Also a descriptive statement, which should include the database’s title, contact information for the copyright claimant, and information about the database which is being copyrighted, will need to be provided.
There are also special rules for completing Application Form TX for MLS databases that are set forth in Circular 65. In Space 1:Title, there is a special format which should be used. The information in this space must be presented in this style: “Group Registration for automated database titled [insert title]; published/unpublished (choose one) updates from [insert date] to [insert date].” The dates describing the period covered by the group registration must be three months or less apart, and all within the same calendar year. In the “Publication as a Contribution” part of this section, state how frequently the MLS database is updated. In Space 3: Creation and Publication, provide the date when the compilation format was first fixed in time. In Space 6: Derivative Work or Compilation, the application should state that the materials included in this compilation are preexisting materials and the information in this section should also make it clear that these materials were “selected” and “arranged,” in order to assure that the compilation receives copyright protection.
Registration of your MLS database assures that your MLS information will receive the maximum protection from infringement afforded by law. As this article explains, registration is easy, but you will need to follow the directions in the Circular carefully when completing the form. Visit the United States Copyright Office today to obtain the forms necessary to register your database.