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Real Estate Photography and Syndication

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I was recently in an online discussion talking about syndication and content that is displayed on a 3rd party site (Zillow and Trulia)  and it made me think about copyright laws with photography. I was thinking about how much money I have invested into my business by buying the best Real Estate Photography Equipment that is available. Well, when I say the best I should clarify that I bought a full frame Camera that shoots with a 14 mm lens and variety of other lenses and tri pods. I have also invested in the equipment to shoot Ariel photos and to shoot 360 by 360 virtual tours. I even bought the equipment to shoot stable video tours for homes. I have spent a lot of time reading on how to adjust aperture settings to shoot at dusk so you can make the house look like it is glowing. The time and technique investment goes on and on. The point is that this commitment is something that most Realtors don’t do and its something that I make sure my clients understand when I list their house for sale.

So if I am taking hours editing pictures that I invested in then why don’t I copyright the photos? The reason that I can’t copy right the photos is due to the fact that I am a member of a multiple listing service. As a member of that multiple listing service we are required to share our marketing photos on the MLS so that Realtors and their clients can view the photos online. I have no problem with sharing my marketing photos with Realtors or with buyers who are looking at houses for sale in my community. As a member of the MLS we as Realtors have all agreed to share all of our marketing content with each other so that we can help each other sell our listings. After all we only get paid when we sell our clients listings so why would we want to do anything that can interfere with the sale of their home?

Well, it gets tricky. What happens when you write all of your content to the MLS (Marketing Descriptions, Property Information) then that content is given to a 3rd party (Zillow and Trulia) without your permission? Again, this does not sound like a big deal at first because you want your clients house to be displayed in as many platforms as possible right? This is were different opinions come into play on who owns that material and what they should do with it. In my opinion. I think it is unethical for somebody else to create a business model that turns them into a Billion Dollar company just for displaying my marketing photos and my content on their web page. This can can one step further and I can list dozens of houses that I have paid photographers to shoot. The average Real Estate Photographer in my area charges about $350.00 per house. These 3rd party syndication sites pay Realtors nothing for their content or their photos. In fact they take all of our information with syndication agreements and display it on their web page then they charge Realtors to advertise next to the photos and the content that they created…LOL

The problem with this business practice is that not all Realtors want their hard work and invested time to be syndicated to a 3rd party that does nothing to earn that material. Its really easy for the other of a web site to approach an MLS to discuss syndication. In fact, they can tell the MLS board members how their web site is ranking so well in Google and that the listings will get more exposure from the 3rd party site then they will from any MLS owned site. The board members of the MLS may get tricked into thinking that the syndication is a good idea. The sales rep at the 3rd party site (Zillow or Trulia for Example) is really just looking for a legal way to get a content dump onto their billion dollar web site.

What most MLS boards and Realtors fail to recognize is that if these 3rd party syndication sites were not given all of the content then their Realtors and their MLS board site would rank better in Google. The intent of 3rd party syndication sites is to get as much information on their web page as possible and to get as many Realtors to link to that site as fast as possible. To truly understand this you would have to look at it from the perspective of the MLS and the 3rd party site owner. The MLS was created for the Realtors and is governed by the Realtors. We share our content to work together and help each other sell homes. The 3rd party site is an advertising platform that wants to get Realtors to pay then to BID on Zip Codes in their area. When the Realtor buys a zip code from the 3rd party syndication site they are displayed next to all of the content that was syndicated to the 3rd party site. If you were the President of the MLS do you think it would be in your organizations best interest to give all of this content to the 3rd party for free when their sole intent is to compete against your members in the SERP results and pay then to display next to their content?