Copyright And The MLS

I’m not talking about Major League Soccer. I’m talking about the Multiple Listing Service – the master list of real estate offerings in any given market. But here’s a case from a federal court in Minnesota that shows that copyright reaches even the hum drum world of real estate listings. Apparently a company called American Home Realty reproduced on its Web site copyrighted photographs and property descriptions created by the Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota. The MLS brought a copyright claim against AHR, seeking to enjoin it from using the material on its Web site. For the most part, the court agreed with MLS and granted most of what it asked for. That included an injunction covering photographs. It also covered “agent’s remarks” – which it described as “uniquely phrased descriptions of the property, highlighting those parts of a property that might be most attractive to agents and the public.” It used this as an example: “Sandylakeshore, yard with minimal maintenance, perfect for that getaway you’ve been looking for.” But MLS couldn’t convince the court that “field descriptors” like:

Amenities-Unit: Deck, Patio, Dock, Balcony, Kitchen Window, Vaulted Ceiling(s), Tiled Floors, Walk-In Closet, Washer/Dryer Hookup, Security System. “Main Floor Full Bath, Private Master, Full Master, Full Basement, Separate Tub & Shower, Whirlpool”

qualified for copyright protection. The descriptors did not seem “sufficiently creative” to the court to warrant protection. The lesson here? Creativity is a pretty low threshold for copyright protection. Photographs of a 3 bedroom Cape Codprobably aren’t going to win the Pulitzer Prize, but somebody shot it, and that’s enough creative input to trigger copyright protection. Raw facts aren’t protected, but if there are some adverbs and adjectives put around them, you copy that content at your risk. Just because the Internet makes copying and pasting so easy, doesn’t make it legal.