REDPLAN Inc., a nonprofit that launched last year to help real estate organizations safeguard their information from data pirates, is building up a legal reserve fund the trade group says will be used to tackle issues such as intellectual property theft, copyright violations and patent troll protection.
REDPLAN, which stands for Real Estate Data Protection Legal Association Nonprofit, was incorporated in June 2013 and has been gaining steam ever since. The association now has 26 members, two-thirds of them multiple listing services and Realtor associations and a third of them real estate information companies.
REDPLAN is a finalist for an Inman News Innovator Award for “most innovative MLS or real estate trade association.”
“REDPLAN just celebrated its first anniversary and the industry is realizing that this new association is a collective, cooperative force to be reckoned with, supported by the many upstanding citizens of the real estate information world,” said founder and board Chairman Gregg Larson.
The establishment of the legal reserve fund “proves REDPLAN is willing and able to stand behind our members in a very real way,” said Larson, who is also the founder and CEO of Clareity Consulting and Clareity Security.
REDPLAN members pay annual membership fees ranging from $1,500 to $20,000, depending on organization type and size. Currently, an estimated 25 to 40 percent of income goes to the newly established legal fund. The rest goes toward on operating costs, said Darity Wesley, REDPLAN’s administrator. The association’s board plans to set aside 50 percent of REDPLAN’s total income to the legal reserve fund in 2015 and raise that percentage in 2016.
In time, REDPLAN will use the fund for both “offensive” and “defensive” situations involving intellectual property protection, but for now there are no set plans for when REDPLAN will begin to make use of the fund, Wesley said.
“We stand ready to help our members right now. If there’s any kind of a violation, they can give us that information,” she said.
Wesley emphasized that REDPLAN would not be the “injured party” in any legal actions, but rather would fund and support actions brought by members who felt their rights had been trampled on. REDPLAN has its own attorney, Claude Szyfer, an antitrust lawyer and partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, who will work with members’ local attorneys, she said.
“Hopefully you never have to go to court,” Wesley said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Before a dispute ends up in court, there are often cease-and-desist letters, mediation or other legal maneuvering, and “all of it costs money,” she said.
All REDPLAN members receive a copyright analysis, according to Wesley.
“We evaluate copyright filings, whether you have obtained the proper rights, so that if you ever have to go to court … you have the right standing,” she said.
For instance, she notes that a Realtor association’s transaction forms are intellectual property and such forms should include a proper copyright notice at the bottom of each page.
“You need the copyright sign or the word ‘copyright’ but not both,” Wesley said. “If you got both, you’re doing it wrong. Then you put the year and then you put the name of your association, multiple listing service or company. After that you put ‘All rights reserved.’ That is proper and complete notice that it’s yours.”
That notice should be at the bottom of every page with online listing data and in the MLS database as well, she added.
Eventually, REDPLAN will advocate for policies that protect and promote intellectual property rights at all levels of government and will form an anti-piracy program to actively monitor, investigate and report on piracy for the industry, Wesley said.
For now, REDPLAN is focused on growing its membership.
“I think every association of Realtors, every multiple listing service, every real estate information company ought to join to protect from scrapers, from pirates, from bootleggers,” Wesley said.
“REDPLAN is the big tent for the entire real estate information industry. It’s not just about MLSs and associations,” she added.
The trade group has grown to seven board members: Larson; Szyfer; John Mosey, CEO of St. Paul, Minnesota-based NorthstarMLS; Martin Scrocchi, CEO of paperless transaction management firm Instanet Solutions; Jay Gaskill, chief operating officer of Solutionstar; Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of My Florida Regional MLS; and John Leonardi, CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.
The group plans to fill three or so remaining seats within the next year.
“We want a nice blend,” Wesley said. “This is not (only) about Realtors necessarily. This is about the real estate information business. So I’m real excited to bring everybody in — anybody who has a real estate information database.”
REDPLAN, she said, is out to harness “the collective power of the group.”