Court throws out NeighborCity’s antitrust claims against NAR, MRIS

HomeServices of America and subsidiaries embroiled in copyright infringement suits

A federal district judge has dismissed antitrust claims filed by the operator of real estate listing portal and agent ratings website NeighborCity.com against the National Association of Realtors and Mid-Atlantic multiple listing service Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS).

NeighborCity.com’s operator, American Home Realty Network, filed the antitrust suit in September 2012, in response to a copyright infringement suit filed by MRIS in March 2012.

In that lawsuit, MRIS claimed NeighborCity.com provides “unauthorized access to and use of” copyrighted MRIS data to support the company’s referral business. Last year NeighborCity began displaying updated agent profile pages with agent scores and performance metrics based on agents’ transaction history. NeighborCity says it obtains some, but not all, of its listings data from brokerages.

St. Paul, Minn.-based Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota Inc. (NorthstarMLS) filed a separate suit against American Home Realty Network, which does business as NeighborCity.com, in April 2012.

Gavel image via Shutterstock.
Gavel image via Shutterstock.

NeighborCity’s counterclaim against MRIS and NAR included seven counts, all of which were dismissed by the court on June 10. However, NeighborCity will have until next week to amend three of the seven dismissed counts and resubmit them for reconsideration. If it does not, the company will not be allowed to refile its case.

In dismissing the counts, Judge Alexander Williams Jr. said the court had “serious reservations about AHRN’s ability to set forth a cognizable (antitrust) claim against either” NAR or MRIS, but recognized that some allegations proposed by AHRN “may be relevant” to its claims and it would therefore grant the company the opportunity to file amended counterclaims.

In April, NeighborCity filed an amended counterclaim against NorthstarMLS and added HomeServices of America Inc. and its subsidiary, Edina Realty Inc., as defendants to the suit, alleging antitrust violations.

At NAR’s midyear meeting last month, the trade group agreed to contribute $135,000 to RMLS’s suit against NeighborCity.

In March, another HomeServices of America subsidiary, Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Preferred Carolinas Realty Inc., became the first brokerage to file a copyright infringement suit against NeighborCity. The suit claims NeighborCity is “unlawfully copying and displaying thousands of real estate listings and photographs on its website, including those owned and copyrighted by Preferred Carolinas Realty Inc.”

Last month, NeighborCity filed an answer to the suit, claiming, among other defenses, that agreements with the brokerage’s own agents say that the brokerage has given its consent for its listings to be displayed on NeighborCity.com.

Also last month, the Key West Association of Realtors Inc. (KWAR) was awarded $2.7 million by a federal district court for a copyright suit it brought against an individual who ran websites, including KeyWestMLS.com, with unlicensed data, content and images from a multiple listing service (MLS) maintained by KWAR.

The judge in the case said he set the penalty high to deter others from illegally using MLS-copyrighted content.

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