Commercial real estate professionals have long relied on photos for listings and other marketing-related communications. But as the use of online images has increased, so has easy access to photos from diverse sources—and the risk of copyright violation.
Using a copyrighted work without permission is an infringement and could result in liability. A court could award injunctive relief, damages and attorneys’ fees, and order the infringing materials to be destroyed.
Chloe Hecht, senior counsel for legal affairs at the National Association of REALTORS®, recommends four risk management strategies to avoid copyright infringement claims:
- Don’t use third-party work in your business materials unless you can determine the owner and receive permission. Ownership isn’t always clear, so allow time to do research and communicate with digital photographers.
- If you get permission, document it in a license agreement that describes the scope of your permitted use, including how long you can use the work, the media where you can use the work and any geographic restrictions.
- For listing photos, you need an agreement with the photographer. NAR has created sample photo agreements for members. If you own the copyright to listing photos, save the images in your own files and avoid downloading them from commercial listing websites.
- Save copies of your license agreements. That way, if anyone challenges your use of third-party work as unauthorized, you can prove you had permission.