Rules Roundup — Don’t Risk a Copyright Lawsuit!

When you submit a photograph to the NorthstarMLS database, MLS rules require that you have the authority for the Service to include the content in MLS Compilation, in any statistical report, on comparables, IDX or Broker Reciprocity data feeds, RETS data feeds, listing syndication, and any other form of licensing permitted under MLS rules and authorized by NorthstarMLS.

Who owns the photo or who has rights to use it can be confusing, but it’s important to ensure you have the rights to use every photo you load on NorthstarMLS. If you did not take the photos yourself, the National Association of REALTORS® offers three sample agreements (see below) between an agent and a photographer. A copyright lawsuit could cost you thousands, even if it was unintentional – here’s a recent example.

The agreements do not constitute legal advice, or substitute for specific legal advice or opinions. The user of a sample document should not use it without consulting with the broker and legal counsel. The use should be modified to address the specific legal needs of the user.

Work for Hire Agreement: The commissioned photographs are a “Work for Hire”, which means the commissioning party is the automatic owner of the photographs from their creation. Read more…

Assignment Agreement: The photographer assigns all right, title and interest in the photographs to the broker. Read more…

Exclusive License Agreement: The photographer grants to the broker an exclusive license to display and distribute the photographs in connection with the real estate industry. Read more…

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As announced yesterday, NorthstarMLS is taking actions to strengthen listing photo and data copyrights.  As described in that announcement, part of that process (when new listings are entered) is to record whether a NorthstarMLS subscriber took the photos and wrote the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions.

Do I have to respond to this prompt for each individual photo? You will respond to the prompt for each separate upload. So if you upload them one at a time, you will be prompted for each one. But if you upload multiple photos together, you only have to answer the prompt once for the whole group upload.

What if a subscriber took some but not all of the photos? Upload the photos the subscriber took and did not take separately. That way you can answer correctly for each batch.

I need to get the photos/listing uploaded and cannot determine who took the photos or wrote the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks. What do I do? Go ahead and upload the listing and/or photos. Answer “No” to the copyright prompt. If you later find out the answer is actually “Yes,” you can change to Yes for the Public/Agent/Financial Remarks simply by going back in and changing the dedicated Yes/No field next to the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks fields. For photos, the only way to change it is to delete the initial photos, and then upload them again.

I am being prompted to indicate who wrote the Public/Agent/Financial Remarks, but not who took the photos. Why? If your broker selected “Option 2” in the new NorthstarMLS Participation Agreement (no group copyright protection), then you will never be prompted to indicate who took the photos. But more likely, your broker has not yet completed their new Participation Agreement (they have until July 31st). Once they complete the Agreement (and if they select Option 1), then you will start being prompted.

If my photos do not have the copyright watermark, does that mean other NorthstarMLS agents/offices can take and use them on their own listings? No. Although we cannot enforce the copyright against theft outside the MLS, NorthstarMLS rules still prohibit using another agent’s work without permission.

Are you going to incorporate this into the listing input forms? For Agent/Public/Financial Remarks, yes we will add a checkbox to the forms for the agent to indicate whether a subscriber wrote the Remarks. We will work with Instanet on it this week and get it published as soon as possible. Photos are not practical to handle through the listing input form. When the agent sends you the photos, they should indicate whether or not they or another NorthstarMLS subscriber took them.

Who can I contact if I have more questions? Email our Help Desk at or call them at 651-251-5456 (toll free at 1-877-251-5455).
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Did a NorthstarMLS subscriber in your office take your listing photos? Write the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks?

Starting very soon, these are questions you (or your office input staff) must answer each time you upload photos and Agent/Public/Financial Remarks to a listing on NorthstarMLS.

The purpose is to determine what watermark to place on the photo and the type of ownership information that is communicated for both photos and Agent/Public/Financial Remarks.

Here is how it will work. Each time you upload photos or enter Agent/Public/Financial Remarks for a listing in Add/Edit, you will be required to answer either yes or no to the question “Subscriber took all photos [or wrote all Agent/Public/Financial Remarks] being added to the listing.” A “Subscriber” is any person who has their own user ID for the MLS system. If a Subscriber took all the photos uploaded to the listing, the correct response is “Yes.” If the seller or a professional photographer provided one or more photos, select “No.” Click here for a screenshot.

  • If a NorthstarMLS subscriber in your office took the photos (wrote the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks) and your broker has chosen to take advantage of NorthstarMLS group copyright protection: A copyright symbol plus “RMLS” watermark will be placed on the photo. Your broker will have a license from RMLS to use the images and Remarks. But the copyright is assigned to RMLS for it to control use on NorthstarMLS and to protect the content if another individual or site illegally uses the photos or Remarks.
  • If a NorthstarMLS subscriber in your office took the photos (wrote the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks) and your broker has chosen to NOT take advantage of NorthstarMLS group copyright protection: NorthstarMLS will not place a watermark on the photo and will not be in a position to enforce the copyright if another individual or site illegally uses the photos or Remarks (but your broker may choose to do so).
  • If a NorthstarMLS subscriber in your office did NOT take the photos (did NOT write the Agent/Public/Financial Remarks): Some agents may use professional photographers for their listing photos. The photographer is the owner and copyright holder unless those rights are assigned to you or your broker. NorthstarMLS will not place a watermark on the photo and will not be in a position to enforce the copyright if another individual or site illegally uses the photos or Remarks (but the photographer or author of the Remarks may choose to do so).

Why are we doing this? As an owner of the copyrights, RMLS wants to be in the best position to protect against the unlawful use by others. In the event the copyrights are violated, this photo watermarking procedure ensures we have the correct proof.

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