Real Estate Photography: Who Owns the Copyright? (and 3 Other Important Questions)
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As a professional charging for real estate photography used by realtors, brokers, and Multiple Listing Services (MLS), a very important thing to consider is who, in fact, owns the real estate photography copyright.
Real estate photography is a booming business. Few genres of photography have as much going on as real estate photography. It is a year-round business for many photographers. Adding in commercial real estate photography and drone photography creates more work opportunities but also more questions about legal issues.
Four questions I see most often are who owns the copyright for these images, who is responsible for insurance liability, how much can we “Photoshop” the images, and what rules govern drone use.
Real Estate Photography Usage Rights
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When you look at virtually any image posted on an MLS listing, you’ll likely see a watermark on the pics or a disclaimer somewhere in the listing with a copyright statement from that MLS. At first glance, this would make many people think that the MLS owns the copyright, but that isn’t necessarily so.
What this often means is that the MLS posting is protected for that MLS, other realty firms can’t come in and “borrow” those images. However, without a real estate photography licensing agreement between the photographer and either the MLS or realty firm, the photographer automatically holds the copyright for the images they produce.
It is pretty standard, though, that specific real estate photography usage rights are assigned or transferred in the contract governing the relationship among all the parties. There are online resources that can be used for finding proper contract language if the photographer writes up the contract.
Most real estate firms and any large MLS will probably have their own contracts for photographers. These contracts often state that the real estate firm or the MLS will have certain rights assigned to them from the photographer.
It pays to be familiar with contract law and wording in general, plus there are many forums where you could ask contract questions, either for free or for a small fee. You might want to double-check your current real estate photography licensing agreement, see what the different assignments of real estate photography usage rights are in your case.
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When you’re shooting on a property and someone trips over your tripod, breaking their wrist, your camera, and the ornately carved cabinet door they fell on (worst-case scenario), you will be so glad you have the proper insurance coverage!
Remember, when your camera is used for profit, homeowners, renters, or auto insurance do not cover theft, damages, and other liabilities. You may only work one day out of each month, a paid hobby more or less, but in the eyes of the law and insurance regulations, that’s a different relationship than if you were simply some non-compensated person with a camera.
Even as a serious amateur photographer, it is a good idea to have specific coverage for your gear and yourself. It really doesn’t cost much at all. And when those worst-case scenarios actually happen, you have legal resources and considerations that should work in everyone’s best interests.
Realistic Representation of the Property
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As photographers, we are artists and craftsmen. The images we create can be crafted, captured, processed, and produced as we see fit according to our artistic vision.
In real estate photography, our images should show a realistic view of the property. Within that reality, we still have a lot of options. One of our best tools for real estate photography is bracket and merge HDR photography.
The primary purpose of bracket and merge HDR for real estate is to take care of dynamic range issues in the exposure calculations, not to make each image an “interpretation” of what’s really there. See more about how it’s done in this YouTube video if you’re not using this method yet.
The bottom line is, the bracket and merge method for real estate photography is not altering reality, it’s simply fixing exposure, contrast, and dynamic range issues. Change up too much in an image for a real estate listing and it could end up being seen as misleading. We don’t want that.
photo by jhorrocks via iStock
As with insurance considerations, once you use a drone for business, it doesn’t matter what size the drone is, it’s now governed by FAA regulations for commercial use.
This is one of those questions that causes all sorts of confusion or worry for newcomers to drone photography. When you buy a drone, there are regulations concerning private use versus for-profit use. For-profit covers any form of compensation, so be on the safe side and obtain proper clearances and registration.
Besides running into trouble with the FAA and other government agencies, improper licensing and registration can also jeopardize your insurance coverage for using your drone in your real estate photography.
It’s easy to get everything done right, it just takes some study and testing, and a few fees. Drones are an awesome tool for real estate photography, make sure you can use yours with no worries or liabilities.
Within these 4 questions about the legal considerations of real estate photography, you may find answers for many of your other business questions. Enjoy your job, be well covered, do things properly, and reap the benefits.