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Hey! Those are my photos...

May 23 2014

Do you see anything wrong with this picture?

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How about now?

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As you can see, this home is listed For Sale By Owner on Zillow. But the main image includes an MLS watermark! How can this happen?

As a real estate professional you invest a considerable amount of time and money marketing a property, often including investing in a professional photographer. Photos, virtual tours, marketing descriptions are all examples of content that belong to you. In other words, the listing content is your intellectual property. However, most publishers' Terms of Use state that once the listing information is submitted to their website, they own your data, including the photos and property descriptions, and this data can be used by the publisher website in an unrestricted way, for any use, in perpetuity. By submitting your information to them, you are releasing the listing data to become the intellectual property of that website.

Below is a portion of the Terms of Use for two of the major publisher websites:

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Not only can the publishers retain your intellectual property they can use your listing data for any purpose that they choose – now and in the future. Often, the purpose may be to create derivative works, meaning they can use your listing data to create new products and services. This can include applications like a Comparative Market Analysis, or CMAs, that they can sell into the real estate industry, or data related products that they can sell to banks, appraisal companies, or other websites. According to these terms, you grant the site a "royalty free and irrevocable" license to use your data, meaning you will not receive any payment for the use of your listing data, nor can you take back the use of your data by the publisher. Yikes!

How Can You Maintain Control of Your Data?

To control your listing data online you can either 1) negotiate direct agreements with each publisher website where you advertise your listings, which can be time consuming and require legal assistance or 2) partner with a company who has already done this for you.

ListHub, for example, has negotiated agreements with over 60 national publisher websites that include comprehensive protections for your listing data. Every publisher in the ListHub network must sign a contract that restricts the use of listing information and has the following 3 core tenets:

  • The listing content is used for consumers display use only.
  • The listing owner retains ownership of the listing content, including photos and other marketing information
  • Listing information will be removed from the publisher's website once the listing is off market.

These tenets are crucial as the ListHub Contract supersedes the Terms of Use published on each of the publishers' websites, so they are binding rules.

Further Information