Attorneys for two real estate photographers are seeking class-action status to represent others in a lawsuit against real estate data and technology firm CoreLogic Inc. alleging the company stripped identifying information from millions of home images uploaded to multiple listing services, making the images harder to protect against copyright infringement.

The complaint further alleges that CoreLogic illegally copied the images into its subscription-based RealQuest property database and sold access to them without photographers’ permission or authority and without compensating them. CoreLogic is the largest provider of technology services to MLSs in the U.S. — including 17 of the top 20 MLSs — and brought in $1.3 billion in revenue in 2013.

CoreLogic declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Attorneys for the company have not submitted a formal response to the complaint, which was originally filed in May and amended in August.

“Copyright infringement is a major problem on the Internet today,” said Joel Rothman, a partner at one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs, Schneider Rothman Intellectual Property Group, in a statement.

The plaintiffs are Robert Stevens of Florida and Steven Vandel of California, two professional real estate and architectural photographers who allege that CoreLogic systematically falsified, removed or altered “copyright management information” metadata from images uploaded to its MLS platforms in violation of copyright law.

Copyright management information can include the name of the photographer, title of the work, owner of the photographs, terms and conditions for use, or other identifying information such as when and where the photograph was taken.

Metadata accompanying a photograph taken by Robert Stevens.
Metadata accompanying a photograph taken by Robert Stevens.

“CoreLogic knows, or has reasonable grounds to know, that removal or alteration of copyright management information will induce, enable, facilitate or conceal infringement of copyrights,” the complaint said.

“Without the copyright management information, an MLS user may mistakenly believe that the digital images … can be downloaded or used freely. Without the copyright management information, copyright infringement is facilitated or concealed, because [copyright owners] have the difficult or impossible task of proving that a digital image belongs to them.”

Moreover,  CoreLogic’s practice of placing its own copyright notice next to the digital images it has stripped of identifying metadata and copied to its RealQuest database can “mislead a CoreLogic product user to believe that the digital image can be downloaded and used without the consent” of copyright owners, the complaint said.

Photo taken by Robert Stevens in CoreLogic's RealQuest system.
Photo taken by Robert Stevens in CoreLogic’s RealQuest system.

The lawsuit seeks class certification on behalf of all photographers whose images have been uploaded to a CoreLogic-powered MLS and had their copyright management information removed. Currently, MLSs themselves are excluded from the class, but may be included later.

“With CoreLogic claiming more than 2 million active real estate listings, a class action is the most efficient procedure to obtain redress,” said Darren Quinn, plaintiffs’ co-counsel in the suit, in a statement. “We seek to stop the practice of stripping metadata and falsifying [copyright management information], and to recover monetary relief.”

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