Listing content fuels the real estate industry, and displaying photographs of real properties online is now a vital part of the real estate professional’s marketing plan. Sellers use photographs to market properties, and buyers rely on those images to select which properties to visit. MLSs distribute property listings through proprietary databases that include the listing photographs. Moreover, MLSs in turn often license their property listing databases, including broker-provided photographs, to third-party portals, such as realtor.com®, and other websites and vendors.
Improper use of listing photographs, however, can create legal problems for agents, brokerages and MLSs. Authorship and ownership of photographs within the real estate industry is “fractured”. Who authored the photograph and who can use what photograph and in what way varies across the industry. Listing photographs may be taken by homeowners, real estate agents, MLS or brokerage employees, or professional photographers. Photographs may be owned or licensed to different parties in a variety of ways. A misunderstanding of how you may use the photographs for property listings could make you vulnerable to a copyright lawsuit.