Editor’s note: The following excerpt appears on the Inman News Blog and shows the divergent views the industry has about who owns property listing data. The passages were taken from reader comments on the topic of listings ownership and do not reflect Inman News’ opinion. To discuss your thoughts on the topic, click here.
NO ONE OWNS IT
“The answer is exactly the same for the question, ‘Who owns your published telephone number listing?’ The underlying data is unprotectable under the law. And, as with the telephone company analogy, simple data lists are unprotectable. If photos are used, they can be copyrighted; if unique prose-like descriptive copy is used, it might be protected unless the word picture is fully descriptive of the facts and there are few choices for an alternative description. As the property owner, the greatest access to the listing should be encouraged. The real estate agent’s vested interest in the transaction is secured contractually, so they should not try to exert any further control over the facts or the actual listing.”
THE HOME SELLER OWNS IT
“The home seller owns the listing and info associated with it. Forget the legal jumble crap. It just doesn’t matter. What does matter is what is in the best interest of the seller. What is in the best interest of the seller is for their home exposed everywhere on the Internet.”
THE BROKER OWNS IT
“The content creator or broker clearly ‘owns the listing.’ The purpose of the listing is to inform and market a property to the real estate community and the general public. The MLS posting is like an advertisement and the content should not be altered, and the creator should have discretion to place wherever they choose. Some Web sites such as Ziprealty.com invite anonymous posters to render opinion on MLS listings. ZipRealty downloads pictures and descriptions from the local MLS board and anyone can post derogatory, defamatory comments about the listing. This is clearly not in the owners’ nor brokers’ interest. It is like vandalizing a billboard. ZipRealty does not create photos or copy. They have no right to republish and alter content. The content creator must be able to control content and placement to prevent abuses.”
(See the Inman News article, “Home for sale: Comments welcome,” for information about companies allowing user comments on property listings and what is and isn’t allowed at the ZipRealty site.)
THE REALTOR OWNS IT
“Who owns an Inman News article? The creator of the content owns the copyright. Both Inman News and Realtors can choose where they syndicate their content. The idea listing data can’t be legally protected is bunk. Why do you think Trulia got all nicey nice with brokers to get their listings? Because they were caught scraping broker Web sites for listings and discovered they didn’t have legal grounds to stand on. Listing photos and written remarks are very clearly owned and can be protected by the content creator, just like an Inman News article. There is simply no legal question about that fact. Realtors: protect yourself from those stealing your hard-earned listings.”
“The listing agent is protected under contract to a commission; they have a fiduciary obligation to the SELLER to expose their property to as many people as possible to ensure a sale at a maximum sales price. Therefore, it’s important to disperse the listing everywhere, including all of these sites. Do you really think a home seller would say, ‘No … I don’t want you to promote my property everywhere possible?’ “
FUDUCIARY OBLIGATION BUNK
“The thought I have a fiduciary duty to post my listings everywhere is simply fallacious. As part of my listing presentation I describe to the homeowner exactly how and where I will market their property. They can choose to use my services or not. I have yet to have a seller ask me to put their listing on any of the dozens of Internet startup Web sites.
“There is a free message board at the local coffee shop where I could post all my listings. I don’t, and I have no fiduciary duty to do so.
“It’s my choice as the agent hired to market and sell the property how it is marketed. Remember, I don’t get paid until the property sells, so I have a substantial interest in getting it sold. I simply don’t see the benefit from posting listings on every Tom, Dick and Harry Web site.”
WHO THE HELLS KNOWS
“Wow, must be slow in the real estate news space. I think it must sound something like this: ‘Hey, it’s getting boring around here. Let’s dust off the old ‘who owns the listing?’ question and see what we get.
“Answer: Who the hell knows? If we haven’t figured it out after asking the question for the last 12 years or so, what makes anyone think they can get a clear answer now?”
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