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Another day, another story of a photographer taking it to the courts to get justice.
But this time the price tag for someone’s alleged theft of another’s photography is an eye-catching $81 million and involves none other than real estate giant Zillow according to The American Genius.
Again, like we said, it isn’t a rare occurrence that someone has their copyright on a photo violated but it is unique when it involves real-estate photography and millions of dollars.
Apparently California photographer George Gutenberg alleges that Zillow not only steals his photographs but those of others as well in its multiple real estate listings and he wants the company to stop this practice. Rather than having images and listings submitted to the website, the lawsuit alleges that Zillow “scrapes” data from other real estate listings websites and then posts that information to their own website, text and all.
Per a report in The American Genius, Gutenberg is seeking damages pursuant to “an amount to be proven or, in the alternative, at Plaintiff’s election, an award for statutory damages against Defendant in an amount up to $150,000.00 for each infringement pursuant to 17 U.S.C. §504(c), whichever is larger” which would cover some 543 images on Zillow on which he has copyright for a total of “$81,450,000 or more.”
Unlike many cases of copyright infringement this one is more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Of course, in a novel turn. Gutenberg had the foresight to copyright all of his images and his terms and conditions that he makes clients sign permit a limited use of those photos for up to one year but forbids third-party sites, like Zillow, from using those pictures without his explicit permission to do so.
As The American Genius points out, the question of who owns real estate photography has largely been teased out in the courts system in the United States but it still isn’t always clear to customers. This is why it is so important that people fully read the agreements presented to them by either their photographer or a website to which they upload photos.
What a lot of this lawsuit will probably hinge on is Zillow’s practice of “scraping” data from other websites, most of which have vastly different terms of service agreements and the like. The decision could have a huge impact on websites that use such practices that are more widespread than most people probably know.