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Real Estate Marketing: Who Owns Real Estate Images?

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If you have been working in the real estate industry for quite some time, it is likely that you already know how real estate images are processed and used.

One frequently asked question is this: Are the real estate images copyrighted? If yes, who owns them?

This is a valid question and deserves to have a concise answer. Given the overall process of producing real estate images, some argue that the owner should be the realtor or the company that made those. But, what if you have used images found online or obtained in other ways?

The second instance is a different story. There is basic logic: own what you create. Otherwise, you should give proper credit to the owner of the materials you use.

So, before discussing the legal aspect of real estate image ownership, you should know why property images are essential.

The main reason is this: images are powerful in capturing the attention of prospected buyers. While words are also crucial, using the perfect photos adds more value to your captions. Clients who do not want to read much can quickly know what the property is all about by looking at the images.

Hence, acquiring property photos becomes a challenge for some realtors and property owners. It is either they produce one or grab relative images online. The latter one is problematic because it can have some copyright issues if not obtained accordingly.

In this case, what can you do?

First, you need to understand the channel you are using. Do you own a single property website? If yes, then it is best to use your images taken and edited by a trusted real estate photo editor.

But, if you are listing properties on multiple listing sites (MLS), the recommended thing to do is to understand the listing photos agreement of the sites and the terms by which you can use their images or vice-versa.

You need to understand that authorship and ownership of photographs within the real estate industry is “fractured”.

This means who owns the photograph, who can use it, and how it differs in every situation. You know that listing pictures may be taken by homeowners, real estate agents, and brokers, MLS, or professional photographers, but the final photographs may be owned or licensed to different third parties in different ways.

Any misunderstanding on this part, especially on how you may use the photographs for MSLs, could make you vulnerable to a copyright lawsuit.

To prevent this, here are some tips you can follow:


Always review agreements

Whenever you sign up on listing sites, make it a point to review photography agreements. This can provide you protection against copyright issues since you can assess what rights were granted or conveyed to you as a user.

Moreover, if you contribute your images to the sites, the agreement also helps you understand what rights you have against other people who may want to use your pictures from the sites.


Recheck all copyright permissions

It is best to audit your use of listing photographs to ensure compliance with the relevant agreements between involved parties. If you are unsure about the terms, then do not proceed. It is best than facing a lawsuit.


Define your goal

Photo licensing agreements usually differ because of the purpose. Is it for educational or commercial purposes? You need to have a goal and reason for using the images.


Keep copies of the agreements

For protection, make it a habit to maintain records of all photography agreements. Check online terms of use regularly for any changes not communicated to you and ensure you get a copy of the most updated ones.

In the end, property photo ownership is tricky, primarily if you are just relying on listing sites for your images. The best way to protect yourself is to invest in quality images taken for the properties you want to sell.

Yet, if this is impossible, just ensure that the current terms of use protect you.



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