U.S. News | Real Estate Photographer Sues Zillow for Copyright Infringement

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Real estate giant Zillow Group has been sued for yet another copyright infringement case.

It would be recalled that the company is currently facing an ongoing case filed by photo firm VHT, which accused Zillow of stealing photos and allegedly using them without proper permissions. In a new lawsuit filed on September 17, 2018, at the U.S. District Court in California, a professional real estate photographer named George Gutenberg alleges that the company is using hundreds of his images on Zillow without his authorization.

According to complaint, real estate agents typically hire Gutenberg, who specializes in high-end residential and commercial properties in the state’s Coachella Valley, as an independent contractor to photograph a property for a negotiated fee. Gutenberg however retains the copyright to all photographs taken of each property and grants the real estate agent a limited license to use the photographs for up to one year for the purposes of marketing the property, which allows the agent to place the photos on their website, in brochures, real estate magazines, and on the multiple listing service.

Gutenberg has a profile on Zillow.
Gutenberg has a profile on Zillow

The complaint states that the license expressly states that it is not transferable and prohibits third party use without permission from Gutenberg. However, Gutenberg found out earlier this year that Zillow was using 543 of his photographs on its listing detail pages without a license or his permission. He has registered images with the U.S. Copyright Office — a requirement in order to bring a lawsuit for infringement of a U.S. work. The 711-page complaint contains copies of the images at issue as well as screen shots of Zillow’s use of the images.

As a result of the alleged copyright infringement of the photograph, Gutenberg is seeking an award of actual damages and disgorgement of any profits Zillow has made from the images or, alternatively, an award for statutory damages of up to $150,000 for each infringement.

Gutenberg v. Zillow Inc. et al

United States District Court Central District of California
Judge: David O Carter
Case #: 8:18-cv-01675
Nature of Suit 820 Property Rights – Copyrights
Cause 17:101 Copyright Infringement
Case Filed: Sep 17, 2018
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About Ufuoma Akpotaire 312 Articles
Ufuoma is a Senior Editor and Director of Regulatory Policy at NLIPW. She assists clients in the protection of copyrights, trademarks and patents. She counsels clients regarding validity and infringement matters and has experience acting against the infringement of IP and addressing counterfeit issues. She holds a Masters degree (LL.M.) from Columbia Law School, New York and a law degree from the University of Nigeria (LL.B. Honors). She is admitted to practice law in Nigeria and in the State of New York. Ufuoma cut her teeth in the intellectual property practice groups of some of the largest law firms in Nigeria and has years of experience working with major non-profit organizations in New York. Email: uakpotaire@nlipw.com