Feature allows photos to remain in the MLS for appraisals and agents to view, but removes them from data feeds to IDX and other public sites.
A number of years ago, WAV Group provided expert witness testimony in the case between Zillow and VHT. Practically speaking, unless there is an agreement, whoever takes a photo owns the default copyright holder and has the right to determine how they are used.
Normally, when professional photographers capture images for real estate listings, they license the photos to the agent or broker for use in marketing the listing, and there is specific language related to authorizing the agent or broker to contribute the photos to the MLS compilation. This license agreement between the photographer and the agent limits the photograph from being used in ways that it was not intended or reselling the photos without paying the photographer, among other things. Some agents honor those agreements by removing photos from the MLS when the listing is sold, withdrawn, or another off-market status.
FBS Launches Private Media in Flexmls
According to Char Gust, Vice President of Product for FBS, this new behavior of agents deleting images inspired Flexmls customers to imagine ways to allay the concern. The result is a new feature in Flexmls called Private Media. Private media allows the photos, videos, and virtual tours to stay in the MLS for off-market listings and only viewable by logged in users of the MLS like agents or appraisers.
The feature was launched in all FBS markets and is live today. MLS Administrators have the option to request the feature be toggled “off,” but only a handful of more than 100 markets have turned it off.
The feature is intuitive to use and will not require user training, but MLSs should put some energy into communicating the feature to their broker and agent users. Too often, great features show up in the MLS and agents do not even notice. MLSs may also need to consider inserting some language in their rules about the Do’s and Don’ts of handling private photos.
Pro Note: Agents can access the private photos for a CMA built in Flexmls, but third-party CMA vendors will need to contact the MLS to request private media and be able to tightly control where private media are displayed and who has access to it.
This is a rather simple but highly impactful and brilliant new MLS feature that will hopefully spread to other MLS systems as well. It goes a long way toward protecting copyright and privacy. It also shores up the value of MLS data quality for practitioners. Frankly, comparing subject properties to recently sold inventory is a keynote of pricing a home correctly.
Feature Enhances Copyright Compliance, Homebuyer Privacy, and MLS Data Quality
The NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® has published a number of template photo licensing agreements for agents and brokers to use that clarifies the agreement with photographers. Brokers should also have an agreement with their agents who are taking photos.
There are other problems related to publishing and syndicating photos of off-market properties. For example, I do not want pictures of my child’s bedroom all over the internet; my family should have a right to privacy. Moreover, many famous people, including celebrities and government officials, do not want photos of their home on the internet.
This is where it gets tricky. The buyer’s agent does not have the authority to take down another agent’s listing photos when their client buys the property. The listing agent (or their photographer) owns the photo and the listing. Once the listing is marked sold, even the listing agent can no longer modify the listing. To take down the photos, the MLS needs to do it with their admin permissions. My buyer’s agent has no power to help me out. They can ask, but it is totally up to the listing firm/agent.
Many listing agents began to modify their behavior related to photos, especially in luxury markets like California and Arizona. Agents representing multi-million-dollar estates in Santa Barbara, Scottsdale, or other fancy places developed a practice of removing photos before marking the property as sold, often just leaving the single exterior image. Now these agents, or anyone who has the authorization to edit a listing can easily mark the photos as private and leave them in the MLS.
A future feature that FBS has in progress is an automation setting whereby the photos become private automatically, based upon listing status.
Nice job FBS!