According to an article by Marv Dumon for Technorati.com, Warren Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has filed a lawsuit against San Francisco-based NeighborCity.com, despite the fact that Bershire Hathaway is a licensee of the latter.
Berkshire is accusing the company of copyright infringement when it allegedly reproduced, displayed, and distributed protected content such as photographs without any authorization from Berkshire’s listing services.
The disagreement between the two companies shows how intellectual property (IP) rights can be used as a competitive tool in ecommerce and Internet-based lead generation and transactions.
American Home Realty Network Inc. (AHRN), which owns and operates NeighborCity, is countering that the listing services (MLS) are unable to show the chain of title to the photos of the houses in question, and thus, unable to prove that the company has violated any copyright laws. In the real estate industry, photos published on listing websites typically come from the homeowners themselves or their agents.
In response to the copyright lawsuit, AHRN has filed a countersuit against the listing services alleging that they are engaging in anti-trust and anti-competitive practices designed to push out innovation in the housing market.
The anti-trust claim alleges that the listing services as well as Berkshire, which owns the HomeServices of America as a subsidiary, are merely bullying smaller players in the real estate industry. AHRN’s executives that the un-publishing of content, such as images and multimedia, related to listed residential property could drive NeighborCity out of business.
Aside from Berkshire, Maryland-based Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. (MRIS) and Minnesota-based MLS filed complaints against AHRN.
Some believe that the motivation behind the IP lawsuit is a desire by brokers to collect double commissions through dual agency. Dual agency occurs when an agent represents both the buyer and the seller. The practice is now allowed in certain sites due to a conflict of interest.
The above article can be found in its original form by clicking here.
Whilst there will undoubtedly be conjecture and debate as to the rationale and merit of these law suits, the subject matter is important for portals.
Images are a core asset in the fundamental role of a property portal. Images are what is most significant for home shoppers using portals. All portals will have a clear legal position which grants them rights to the use of images provided by the listing agent in the marketing of that property. That license having been given by the listing agent on the basis that the agent owns the rights to those images or has a right granted by the rights holder to the use of the images in promotion of the property. The key is “in promotion of the property”.
The issue is though, what happens to images once the property comes off the market as sold or withdrawn. Portals hold a very valuable asset in these images but without a clear legal right to store and reproduce then they must be destroyed. A vast database of images (exterior and interior) for every house in the country that has been marketing is valuable for all kinds of business opportunities. Be aware of the legal issues with copyright, it is very often not the agent that holds the rights but the photographer or the property owner.