Knowing how important high-quality photography is for marketing properties, real estate pros may spend considerable time on obtaining great listing photos, but overlook some critical legal aspects, including who owns the photos and videos and who has the right to give others permission to use these images or videos.
Ignoring questions of legal ownership poses serious legal risks.
Real estate is in a similar state as the publishing and music industries of the early 2000s, when the internet and the proliferation of digital content forced those businesses to readdress intellectual property laws and licensing as illegal music downloads escalated. Now real estate photographers are grappling with similar copyright and permissions issues related to the unchecked use of images showing up on websites and social media feeds.
“Photographs get lumped in with listing data, but they’re not listing data; they’re intellectual property, and there are laws that govern how they’re used,” says Brian Balduf, CEO of VHT Studios, the nation’s largest real estate photography service and a leader in the burgeoning movement to crack down on misuses.
Copyright statutes say that the person who creates a work owns it and can transfer rights only through writing.
“If you don’t have something in writing from your photographer or photography partner, assume you don’t have rights,” Balduf says.
Step No. 1
The No. 1 step real estate professionals can take is to read and follow the licensing agreement provided by the photographer, says Chloe Hecht, senior counsel at the National Association of REALTORS®.
“It’s incredibly important to make sure you know what you’re getting, what rights you have, and how third parties like MLSs real estate portals, and websites can use the photos,” says Hecht.
NAR recommends obtaining ownership of the photos.