Licenses, trademarks, and copyrights, oh my! All of these are vehicles for securing intellectual property rights for everything from pictures to text, but the issue relates to any media created by an individual or company being owned by that creator forever unless they explicitly sign away those rights or license usage to another entity. Thoroughly confused? Let's just say the one who made it, owns it and has the sole right to use it. Because of this, and the overarching power and validity of intellectual property rights, REALTOR® members need to be aware of some key points to steer clear of trouble.
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Internet imagesYou just need a nice photo of a handsome well-dressed man, shaking hands with a perfectly coiffed woman while holding a contract and smiling in a gorgeous downtown office building. Simple enough right? A quick search of your favorite search engine, and bam it's ready for download in high definition for your new awesome brochure. Bad, bad idea! Just because that image is searchable and downloadable does not mean you can use it. There are purpose-built technologies designed just to seek out images used without a license, so the photographer can commence an action against the user under copyright law… and they win. Several photo services are no charge and royalty-free or provide a limited license for a fee, but you need to read the terms of service and in some cases provide attribution for the use so know your rights before using an image you found online. The best solution for stock photos? Grab your camera or smartphone and do a weekly photo walk in your town. Every picture you take yourself is yours to use how you like forever, and you might be surprised at your previously unknown skills.
PlagiarismJust like for images, words bear the same style of protection under the law. Just like they drilled into you in school that you cannot plagiarize an author of a novel or textbook, the same goes for any text created by anyone without their expressed written consent and attribution. If a REALTOR® writes their remarks for a listing, that becomes their intellectual property and cannot be used in whole or in part by anyone else including a future listing REALTOR® of that property. Similarly, you can’t use fancy wordsmithed text found on the web for your new listing presentation, etc. Write it yourself and it's yours, find it somewhere else, or have it written for you, think about your rights and responsibilities in using that text.
Satellite imagerySurely a chunk of metal with a built-in camera orbiting our common planet miles above the ground taking pictures and publishing them publicly on the world wide web is free to use right? Wrong. The company that put that satellite in orbit took the pictures and owns them. If you do a screenshot of that satellite image and use it for your purposes without written consent you violate copyright law and invite the full weight of that companies legal department into your life. Many folks don’t know that most local municipalities actually take the high-resolution images of their jurisdictions and they can be obtained legally for a fee if you are trying to get that perfect shot of the new acreage listing.
FormsSince we are on the topic and well-marinated in the idea of intellectual property, it bears mentioning that the dozens of AREA forms that all REALTORS® in Alberta have access to have been created over many years at great cost to the membership. The content is so well respected and proven through practice and legal defense that this forms a huge benefit for all REALTORS® in Alberta, but only REALTORS® in Alberta. The forms themselves are protected by trademark and copyright as original intellectual property and permitted for use only by REALTORS®, but are not permitted for use by anyone else without the written consent of AREA, and may never be distributed by members for non-authorized use.
It needs not to be mentioned that this article only scratches the surface of this weighty subject and some who read it are rightly biting their nails as they anticipate how to correct some business practices in light of this new information. Take heart that a simple understanding of the basic principle of intellectual property will help guide you to simply think about the use of media in your business and spare you any legal wrangling. Remember if you didn’t create it, you don’t own it.
Provincial Practice Advisor
Bryan has many years of experience in the real estate industry including over 10 years as a former broker in the Edmonton Region.
Email: email@example.comPhone: 403-209-3619