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Our firm represents many real estate and architectural photographers. Our experience suggests that the unique challenges facing real estate photographers are not currently being addressed by the different photography associations.  Which raises the question, should real estate and architectural photographers unite and form their own association to represent their interests?

The Existing Photography Associations do not Cover RE and Architectural Photography

None of the existing photography associations address the day to day concerns of real estate photographers.  The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) serves the needs of independent photographers who freelance for written and on-line publications.  The American Photographic Artists (APA), of which I am a member, focuses heavily on written and on-line advertising photography.  The Professional Photographers of America (PPA) focuses on wedding, portrait and studio photography.  While all these groups do wonderful things for their members, the have to date failed to address the unique challenges that real estate and architectural photographers face in the current marketplace.

Another great organization is PAPA, the Professional Aerial Photographers Association.  To the extent that real estate and architectural photographers are flying drones, balloons or taking pics from the air, this is a great group. But its only focus is aerial photography and it does not cater to the needs of real estate and architectural photographers.

The Blogs and Clubs for Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Cannot Advocate for their Interests

I am a big supporter of the places where real estate and architectural photographers gather online.   Photography for Real Estate is an awesome blog and I am so thankful to Larry Lohrman for featuring me there so often.

The Real Estate Photographers of America & International and the Association of Independent Architectural Photographers, both run by Alan Blakely, are great organizations that promote the professional success of professional real estate and architectural photographers.  All members must pledge to follow the highest level of honesty and integrity, and be above reproach in all professional business practices.  Alan is a tremendous supporter of the interests of real estate and architectural photographers around the world, and I commend him for his work.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as Larry and Alan are, and they are wonderful, they are just two voices among many.  Furthermore, Larry and Alan are naturally focused on the resources they have created on the internet, rather than the needs of real estate and architectural photographers generally.

Why I think Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Need a Voice

The reasons are many.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.  But I think I have covered the important ones.

  • To Promote the Value of Great Images.  It has been proven over and over again that professional photos taken by professional real estate and architectural photographers sell homes faster and for more money.  But what happens when everyone who has an iPhone in their pocket thinks that they are a professional photographer?  Bad photos and depressed prices for photographers.
  • To Protect Great Images from Infringement and Free Riding.  Unscrupulous real estate agents, or even scrupulous ones who just don’t know any better, treat the internet, MLS and even social media as their free stock photo database.   The hard work of real estate and architectural photographers is already under valued.  When agents and brokers take what they want without asking the photographer loses.
  • To Educate Photographers, their Clients, and the Real Estate Industry. Ignorance is not bliss, ignorance hurts.  It hurts real estate photographers especially.  Agents, technology providers, and MLS’s all have representation.  Real estate agents, MLS’s and technology providers could not survive without great photography.  Yet real estate and architectural photographers have no representation.  No one is speaking to NARCMLS or Zillow on behalf of real estate or architectural photographers.

Why is this Important?  

Protecting great images protects the livelihood of every real estate photographer. Promoting the availability of great images, and the value they offer, promotes real estate and architectural photography generally.  Educating real estate agents and others who rely on professional real estate and architectural images to respect those images increases their value and the value of the photographer’s services.

What else increases value? Using a written or electronic licensing agreement increases value. Storing identifying information in EXIF metadata or watermarks increases value. Real estate agents and MLS’s respecting images increases value. And, most importantly, standing up for the rights of real estate photographers increases value. But who will stand up for photographers?

Case in Point: CoreLogic

I am one of the attorneys who represent members of a proposed class of real estate photographers in In re: Multiple Listing Service Real Estate Photo Litigation, Case No. 14CV1158 BAS (JLB) filed in federal court against CoreLogic, Inc. in the Southern District of California.  We brought this case to stop CoreLogic’s longstanding practice of stripping out copyright management information (“CMI”) metadata from real estate photographs in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). I know from my work with real estate photographers that it is a common practice among photographers to add metadata in EXIF to their photographs as a protective measure.

On June 8, 2016, the Court held a hearing on several pending motions, including motions for summary judgment and a motion for class certification. Judge Cynthia Bashant presided over the hearing.  Her questions and observations were interesting and important for all real estate photographers concerned about their images. In particular, Judge Bashant wanted to know whether real estate photographers actually used metadata stored in EXIF to protect their images, and if they did what was the connection between stripping out that metadata and copyright infringement?

On behalf of the real estate photographers we represent and the class of photographers who are the plaintiffs we did our best to convince Judge Bashant that the pictures taken by real estate and architectural photographers, their livelihood, are deserving of respect. We urged Judge Bashant not to permit CoreLogic to continue to strip out information that identifies who took the pictures so that CoreLogic so that further disseminate them, and infringe on photographers’ copyrights, with impunity.

Is it time for an Association of Real Estate Photographers?

There was no one at the hearing whose sole purpose was to represent real estate and architectural photographers. I think real estate and architectural photographers need a voice to speak for them and raise their concerns at venues like the annual NAR Convention, the Council of Multiple Listing Services, at the Copyright Office, as well as with huge technology companies that misuse their photos like Zillow.

Do you agree?  Should real estate photographers establish a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade association that represents their interests?  Let me know what you think.  You can call me (561-404-4335) or email me (joel at sriplaw.com). I cannot wait to speak to you.



Joel B. Rothman represents clients in intellectual property infringement litigation involving patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, defamation, trade libel, unfair competition, unfair and deceptive trade practices, and commercial matters. Joel’s litigation practice also includes significant focus on electronic discovery issues such as e-discovery management and motion practice relating to e-discovery.