By Adam Frisch, Managing Principal, Lee & Associates Residential NYC
Due in large part to the advent of the internet, the real estate community has recently been entangled in issues surrounding agents stealing one another’s listing photos. A REBNY and Department of State rule stipulates that one may only advertise the exclusive listings of other agents if they have express written permission to do so. However, this rule is now being ignored by many and whether this is due to maliciousness or naïveté is a tough question.
In any case, these photo offenses are not going unnoticed and the repercussions can be severe. I have heard of recent lawsuits in which individual brokers are being sued for as much as $150,000 per image. Photos have been stolen from both the exclusive brokerages’ websites as well as StreetEasy despite the fact that the images in question were copyrighted through the Library of Congress. This fact is what is now allowing for a lawsuit.
Among the real estate community, it was unprecedented until very recently to sue for copyright infringement in cases such as these. Typically, brokers didn’t even feel the need to copyright their listing photos in the first place. Those brokers that discovered others were stealing their photos would simply ask the offending party to take them down and then forbid them from showing that apartment or any of their other listings. However, in the vast landscape of online real estate listings that exists today, it seems to be a bit more cutthroat, meaning that brokers need to take steps to protect their listings.
Although it may have been considered overkill in the past, I would now recommend that brokers copyright their exclusive listing photos through the Library of Congress. Furthermore, it would be prudent to perform regular internet searches for one’s listings to ensure that copyright law isn’t being violated. With the recent confusion surrounding to whom certain photos belong, it’s best to take precautions that will help to protect one’s business from any harm, regardless of whether or not it is intentionally motivated.