CMLS reviews pending IDX policy changes

by Victor Lund on October 31, 2011

I am a big fan of CMLS, the acronym for the Council of MLS. The Council does more than any other organization to support best practices among MLS service providers.

Today, CMLS hosted a member webinar that provided a 360-degree overview of the pending IDX rule change, a consideration that will be discussed and submitted to the NAR Board of Directors for approval at the NAR Convention in Anaheim.

The suggestions to the NAR Board of directors from the call were simple.

Cathy Holefelder of Heartland MLS provided a great summary of the call and suggested this synthesized overview.

-       Repeal Franchise IDX Policy

-       Prohibit the Use of IDX for Social Media

-       Prohibit the Use of IDX for RSS feeds

Brokers may have the freedom to do as they like with their listings, but they should not have the liberty to use another broker’s listing other than the permitted uses outlined in today’s IDX policy.

A little background first. Last May, at the NAR Midyear meetings in Washington D.C. there was an outpouring of concern for a policy change that allowed Franchise organizations to have the right to receive IDX data. Franchise organizations (like Keller Williams, RE/MAX, REALOGY brands, etc.) have long been part of the REALTOR® family. But many brokers – franchises and non-franchises recognized that despite how much Franchises are a part of our industry, they are not brokers and not participants in the MLS. As such, they are not covered by the MLS Rules and Regulations, and are not eligible to receive MLS Participant benefits like broker members.

Upon evaluation, NAR’s MLS Policy Committee made a recommendation to the Board of Directors to suspend the policy of extending IDX data to Franchise Organizations. Oddly, the NAR Executive Committee did not heed the Policy Committee recommendation, but instead provided MLS Broker participants to “opt-in” to sending their data to Franchise Organizations. This Executive Committee ruling was temporary, only lasting until the NAR Annual Meetings in Anaheim, and spawned a Presidents Advisory Group (PAG) to review the issue.

Alongside this animated debate at NAR Midyear were two related issues. Should MLS Participants be able to use IDX data for advertising on Social Media websites, and may MLS Participants publish RSS feeds?

Today’s CMLS conference call was well attended, experts discussed the information on the issues, and some well thought out suggestions on all three issues of Franchise IDX, Social Media IDX, and RSS IDX were all discussed in detail.

Bob Bemis of ARMLS (Phoenix) who sits on the PAG offered the following summary of the PAG’s thinking – Repeal Franchise IDX – after-all, franchises can easily get data through syndication channels. On the issue of Social Media and RSS, he suggested the following test:

  • If you can display information in accordance with IDX rules and regulations, do it.
  • If you can’t display required information (like Copyright stuff), Link to it.
  • If you can’t link to it or display it, you are violating the MLS rules and regulations.

With that understanding, CMLS invited Matt Cohen of Clareity Consulting to provide feedback. In a clear and easy to understand presentation, Cohen provided exhibits of the challenges posed by allowing IDX data on Social Media sites – advising against the policy. Key IDX rules like Notifying the MLS of IDX site, Showing MLS as Source, Terms of Use, Copyright Disclaimers, Maximum # of listings, Audit trail of consumer activity, co-branding, refresh rates, and Data Opt-Outs are not only very challenging to comply with on Social Media sites, but make it impossible for the MLS to enforce the rules.

Cohen also provided a clear lesson on RSS, and its definitions and possible misuses. In his opinion, RSS is a transportation technology that allows anyone to gain access to all MLS data (via an XML file like RETS). If you allow RSS, you essentially allow any person or computer to gain access to all listing data to repurpose as they please. Cohen concluded that “There is no practical way to restrict RSS feed use – no way to have listing display removed from, or corrected on, a non-members’ site once we put the data file out there – and no way to prevent the data from being re-compiled into someone else’s database.” Moreover, RSS is inconsistent with IDX policy 18.2.7 – an IDX site may not distribute, provide, or make any portion of the MLS database available.

Following the presentation by Matt Cohen was a legal perspective by Jon Rees, Attorney of Law with the firm of Callister, Nebeker & McCollough. Rees, like those before him, provided some excellent considerations from the legal perspective. Namely, MLS Policy statement 7.85 “The Use of listings and listing information by MLSs for purposes other than the defined purposes of MLS requires participants’ consent.” This rule is supported by State Law in many cases requiring that MLS rules need to cover consent for all uses of listing content by participants.

One center point of the discussion regarding using the use of RSS is the issue of chain of custody. A point nicely outlined by Jim Harrison of MLSListings in San Jose region of California. “If MLS data is allowed to be redistributed via RSS  to entities without direct data agreements in place with the MLS, the MLS has turned over irretrievable custody and ownership of data to persons or entities unknown.”

Greg Manship of Intermountain MLS delivered some blows to the concept of IDX in social media. Manship reiterated the findings of Matt Cohen of Clareity, and expressed that MLSs would not be able to serve their members by monitoring and regulating the use of data on Social Media websites.

Jim Harrison of MLSListings supported the conversation by stating that “In the hands of technology providers unaccountable to IDX data policies, the person or entities receiving the data have no obligation to present or use the content in a manner defined by MLS policy. Without this agreement, the MLS cannot assert any governance or corrections. Any abuse or other use will have to be suffered in silence.” (beautifully stated!)

Some new ideas were also discussed. Again, Cathy Holefelder of Heartland MLS  made note that the MLS could put an opt-in check box on the listing input, much in the same way they have an opt-out for “do not display on Internet.” She also nicely outlined that there are “Applications” for sites like Facebook that could feasibly be approved to display listing content in the application where controls would be in place.

The call ended with some unclear concerns about how a particular syndication provider plans to support franchise organizations. Rumor is that one syndication solution (either Point2 or Listhub) is planning one channel for Global Opt-in to franchise syndication. In other words – brokers would not be permitted to pick and choose (ie Send listings to one franchise like Keller Williams, and not to RE/MAX or some other franchise). The feedback from MLS operators for this construct was very negative, suggesting that any syndication solution that took that approach may lose their syndication permissions in many MLSs with such a policy.

A special gratitude to Merri Jo Cowen, CEO of MFRMLS and President of CMLS. She and her squad did an unbelievable job of pulling this meeting together, and shepherding the productive meeting.

Disclaimer: Marilyn Wilson of WAV Group is on the CMLS Board of Directors and WAV Group does research for CMLS.

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