CORRECTIONS: The original version of this article contained errors. The original article misidentified broker Jim Duncan’s market area. Duncan works in the Charlottesville, Va., area. Also, Duncan’s comments were clarified to note that he believes it would be difficult to verify compliance under the proposed new laws of all of the information that he links to from his website. Also, Eric Post is principal of Better Homes and Gardens Realty Partners Inc. in Clackamas, Ore.
Some real estate practitioners and technologists have taken a stance against federal anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives (SOPA) and the Senate (PIPA), worried that it could restrict the legitimate sharing of real estate information online.
Online user-generated encyclopedia site Wikipedia blacked out its site today to protest the anti-piracy legislation that critics say could have wide-reaching and "scary" ramifications for most Internet users and the nation’s burgeoning e-commerce sector.
And Craigslist, a popular real estate listings site, is among the sites that lent their weight to the protest movement with messages and information about the legislation. Google’s logo was blacked out today in recognition of the protest, while the site remained fully accessible.
The legislation, say critics, could allow authorities to shut down websites, deemed to infringe upon copyrights, with no due process, while proponents of the bills say that the legislation would streamline and strengthen copyright holders’ creations.
Also, the bills focus on foreign copyright-infringing websites, and many opponents of the bills agree with the anti-piracy aspects of the bill but fear that, as written, domestic sites and copyright infringement definitions are susceptible to unchecked oversight, which could bleed into all areas of the Internet.
Think of all the shared information: multiple listing services, photos, videos. Can you verify the copyrights of all the content? One unknown copyright infringement, like finding a needle in a sky-high haystack, could mean your whole site being removed, blocked, if this legislation passes, critics say.
Dr. Jim Gaines, a researcher at Texas A&M’s Real Estate Center, said that this legislation could have severe ramifications for the real estate industry. He mentioned possible data-sharing restrictions, like multiple listing service info on Craigslist, as an example.
Broker Eric Post, principal of Better Homes and Gardens Realty Partners Inc., Clackamas, Ore., said, "The real estate industry is a collaborative industry." "We thrive on the ability to share listings, photos, information," he said. "Any threat like this is a threat to our industry."
"The ability to take down entire websites is pretty scary," said Post. "The online economy is so important to us, we need to protect it."
Being ultimately responsible for every minutiae of copyrighted content on your website would not only be impossible, wrote Eric Stegemann, a writer at Tribus.com in a blog post, but is unreasonable:
"For one photo on one listing, your entire site could be filtered right off the Internet. No more SEO (search engine optimization). No more leads, no more branding. For one photo, out of the 100,000 listings your MLS may have, with five photos each. One in 500,000 — yes."
Jay Thompson, who leads a 34-agent brokerage in Phoenix, "blacked" out his popular real estate blog by making only one page active on the site; it urges action to join in the protest of the legislation. The choice to "blacken" the site, which is his primary lead generation source, was not easy, he said, but he believes the legislation is a serious matter.
"Let’s say I’m taking a video of a listing; there could be copyrighted photographs on the wall that could lead to my site being removed," said Thompson, if the legislation passed.
Charlottesville, Va., broker Jim Duncan also "darkened" his landing page today. "My world relies on sharing with attribution," he said, noting that he couldn’t possibly verify whether every bit of information he links to would be compliant with the new rules under consideration. That would kill the way he does business, he said.