Zillow Protects Broker Data

by Victor Lund on June 28, 2017

Zillow LogoWAV Group supports brokers and MLSs in constructing data licensing agreements with users of data records that belong to the broker. When a company like Zillow ingests broker data, like all recipients, they must adhere to the data license agreement which typically requires that you cannot allow the data to be used by a third party. The blog McMansionHell.com is learning the hard way that using data from Zillow without proper authority is a copyright violation that Zillow will pursue. Not only will Zillow pursue the violation, but they may be contractually bound to pursue the violation. The media around the case is a bit confused, so let me try to break it down in layman terms.

There are two methods for licensing data to Zillow Group. I say Zillow Group because they do a great job of creating one license agreement for all of their websites. In the absence of a license agreement, the default agreement is the Terms of Use on their respective websites.

Zillow manages a number of license agreements depending on how they are acquiring the data. The agreements that they have with Franchise Organizations like Realogy, Keller Williams, RE/MAX, etc have a certain flavor. Agreements with brokerages are a little different. Agreements directly with the Multiple Listing Service are also different. The primary covenants of these agreements is that Zillow Group will use the data for its intended purpose and not allow anyone else to use the data. If the broker sends the data to Zillow, its generally for advertising purposes. They would not expect Zillow to collect the data for the purpose of advertising a home for sale, then have Zillow turn around and ship it elsewhere for some other purpose. In this case, Zillow did not provide a data feed to McMansionHell.com. McMansionHell.com is subject to the Terms of Use that are published on Zillow as a user.

McMansionHell.com scraped the data off of Zillow. The process is pretty easy to do on any computer. Simply right click on the image and save it to you computer. Here is where it gets interesting. Sometimes you can use an image from Zillow legally, and at other times you cannot. The digital millennium copyright act allows for some content sharing online. However, the Zillow Terms of Use are very specific. You can only use Zillow Group websites for their stated intent – looking for a home to buy or sell. Clearly, McMansionHell.com was not using the site for this purpose. Moreover, Zillow Group restricts the scraping of their data and reuse for other purposes, and explicitly for commercial purposes. McMansionHell.com was building a publishing company off of the data that was stolen from Zillow. Not Good!

Zillow is a good copyright citizen. The action they are taking against McMansionHell.com is on solid legal ground and should go a long way to establishing trust with brokers, franchise, and MLSs who license data to them. These data licensing agreements are the key differentiators that prohibit McMansionHell.com from using images from their site for things like satire.

Some of you may recall that Zillow lost a lawsuit regarding copyright violation with VHT. That was a completely different case, but there is a lesson there too. In the Zillow agreements, brokers, franchises, or MLSs confer to Zillow that they have acquired the proper copyright that allows them to license to Zillow. In the VHT case, brokers sent data to Zillow that had a limited copyright (VHT only licenses photos to brokers during the term of the active listing status). Brokers told Zillow that they could continue to display the photos after the listing was expired or sold, so Zillow continued to display them. Zillow could have turned around and sued the brokers who cost them $8.5 million in that copyright violation case. But they didn’t. Brokers should not only than Zillow for shuttering McMansionHell.com’s illicit use of the data, but also thank them for not sending a bill for the VHT case.

If your MLS or Brokerage needs help with proper data licensing policy and contract audits to construct value around your data. Contact Victor Lund @ wav goup.

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