Real Estate Agent with Lenn Harley,, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate 303829;0225082372


There has been some blogging about copyright this week, so, although I AM NO COPYRIGHT EXPERT, I have some experience in the matter.   

If folks have any confusion about copyright, don't be concerned about what you don't know.  Just think about what you DO know.  A person may not know if a writing or image is copyright protected.  But, everyone KNOWS what they did write or create.  If you DID write or create it, use it.  If you didn't, don't.  That is so amazing simple. 

I believe that folks get copyright infringement education in the 8th grade Civics class. I remember quite well when I learned about government structure, copyright was covered.  I've always believed that folks who had the good sense to get a real estate license, practice self employment in the real estate industry, invest their money in marketing their services, devoting the time and energy in continuing education, etc., etc. etc., are smart enough to know that copying an image or article that they didn't create or write is an act of copyright infringement.  They KNOW that they didn't create the image or have the image prepared for them with full transfer of copyright protection.  They KNOW that they didn't write that article that has a byline of another or is included on another person's web site.  Folk KNOW. 

If a person intentionally copies the writing of another or copies an image from someone else's web page, they know that they did not write or create that article or image and thay take it anyway, they need to suffer the consequences.  If they don't get caught, they have to have a feeling of angst that they might get caught.  To date, I have collected approx. $104,000 in damages from copyright violators. 


DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!  Just because you see it on Google, doesn't make it public domain.  That's a phrase I've heard often and absolutely not true.  Google has warnings on their "images" pages and often there are public domain and copyrighted material mixed.  But, to be on the safe side, it would seem that it's a lot safer to NOT copy an image or article to use on your web page. 


There are web sites that offer extensive collections of images that are FREE and available to all.  Many Active Rain folks use them liberally to the advantage of their blog.  I use my own images because I have a collection of over 10,000 images and photos that I can draw on for blogs and web sites. If I need a new image that I don't have in my collection, I hit the road with my camera and get what I need or I create a new image for a web page.  These images and photos are then MINE.  Google, SearchMash, etc. have lots of my images indexed.  However, they are NOT public domain.


Want to use some of my images??  Just let me know and I'll send a permission to use and all I want is a link to my web site.  That's my fee, an incoming link to   


What is the procedure if I discover that someone has put one of my map images on their web page.  If it's an image that I have a copyright certificate from the Library of Congress, that means statutory damages, I'll file a Complaint for Damages within a week.  Whether the image(s) is removed from the web site or not is not material.  The claim for damages is for using my property to compete with me for the time it was on the violator's web site.  Taking the image down and thinking I'll go away doesn't work. 

Map of Lovettsville, Virginia 20180       I have maps of many counties and cities in my market area.  Viewers love them and I believe that I have a map fetish.  No matter, I include these little maps in my relocating packages and folks are always complimentary.  Many of these maps have been registered with the Library of Congress.  It takes about 10 months to get through the process, but the statutory protection begins the day they receive it.


Copyright protection conveys the instant an article is written, an images is created.  This is automatic and you don't have to do anything to have the protection.  You need to have registered your images or writing to enjoy the STATUTORY protection for damages. 

The key to copyright enforcement is timing.  I enforce my copyrighted images vigorously and swiftly.  However, quite often, if I see a web page that has copied a few phrases of content, I just send a nice note to the violator and let them know that it is my material and suggest that they take it down  A few phrases are not worth the time or cost of the lawyer's letter and certainly not worth the cost of litigation.  The exception, of course would be if the article or web pages have been registered with the Library of Congress.  Then statutory damages may be claimed.  But, the damages start at about $750 and my attorney doesn't go to lunch for $750.  I don't register a lot of my content because of the time involved and the fact that I rewrite it often.  That is a balance between enforcing a copyright and feeding Google.  I believe I benefit more by feeding Google with fresh content. 


If I see an image, the process is quite different.  I copy the web page of the violator, print the web page of the page and send it to my attorney.  The lawyer's letter goes out swiftly and if they do not enter into serious damages conversation within a week, a complaint is filed in circuit court and it will cost them more than my legal fees to stop that process. 


We've had some violators who tried to blame the presence of my images on their web sites on their web master.  No good, a person is responsible for the content on their web site.  I have also pursued brokers in Maryland because brokers, under the law, have a duty to review and approve agent advertising.  One agent violator tried to blame the existance of my maps on his web site on the Russian technicians that he claimed he hired to script his web site.  I never believed it for one minute, but it doesn't matter.  It was his web site.  One agent tried to convince me that the web site company from which he purchased a template web site, told him that images on Google were O.K. to use.  I didn't believe that either. 

Be careful and don't be tempted.  Write some content.  It's fun.  Create some images.  You'll love them.  Careful, though, some graphic artists want to keep the copyright of images that they do for hire.  Protect yourself and don't use a graphic artist or web design person who claims any property rights to the image that you hired them to create FOR YOU FOR MONEY. 

    I have created a library of "crab" images because of the popularity of the Blue Crap in Maryland lore, commerce and image.  I have a crap inspector, a crab judge, a crab lady agent, etc.  Just for fun.

      These images represent new homes, luxury homes or home styles.  They add color and style to web pages.  Do they produce business for me?  Don't know, don't care. 


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Jessica Hughes
Ambiance Staging - Boulder, CO

I just did a search and found this blog on copyright images that I think adds to what you said.  It states that you should attribute or credit the souce of an image you use for personal things, unless you've paid royalties.  And many images are acceptable for use ony at a given size and only for personal use. 

It can be confusing, but I agree, if there is any question, it is better to err on the side of caution.  Once again thanks for the 'slap on the wrist'!

Nov 05, 2006 06:14 AM #3
Jim Lee
RE/MAX Shoreline - Portsmouth, NH
Portsmouth NH Realtor, Portsmouth, NH

The problem is that a lot of what people know about copyrights just isn't so. ;-)

I believe you and Alice Held have made believers out of several violators.

Nov 05, 2006 07:13 AM #4
Mark Flanders
Consulting - Silverdale, WA

Lenn, another great post!

Thanks for the information. I learned some things I didn't know.

Something you didn't mention is that it is surprisingly cheap to buy the rights to photos and graphics. I'm a regular shopper at It's amazing how far $30 goes there.

Nov 05, 2006 07:37 AM #5
Geri Sonkin
Douglas Elliman Real Estate 516-457-7103 - Merrick, NY
Long Island Real Estate & Staging Expert
You cannot use someone else's images that you find on Google (or elsewhere) assuming they're ok to use for any reason, personal or commercial.  I have bought a license to use hundreds of thousands of images and from time to time someone asks me for permission to use one or more.  Whether I want to or not I can't grant that permission.  It's built into the license agreement I signed off on.
Nov 05, 2006 09:19 AM #6
Susan Trombley
Trombley Real Estate - Wake Forest, NC
Broker/Realtor, Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, Youngs
Copy right the main thing I remember you cannot make a color copy of any money that is a bill.
Nov 05, 2006 09:50 AM #7
Barry Hurd
123 Social Media - Seattle, WA

I hope that the copyright issue remains fairly easy here at AR. I've been a part of several communities that had a lot of problems with copyright issues over the years and it seems the biggest problems came from people who knew exactly what they were doing.

I don't think that AR has many (if any) international users, but as the size of the community grows into international territory the legal pursuit of damages is painstaking on the part of the copyright holder.

As an FYI Lenn, you can send a CD with all of your articles to the copyright office and get all of your articles registered in one feel swoop. I tend to collect all my work once a year off my hard drive and send it in. 

Nov 05, 2006 10:05 AM #8
Jeff Belonger
Social Media - Infinity Home Mortgage Company, Inc - Cherry Hill, NJ
The FHA Expert - FHA Loans - FHA mortgages - USDA loans - VA Loans

Lenn.... agreat blog with some great information.

The map that is shown in the body of your blog is impressive. Nice work. Sounds like your attorney has been busy.

Thanks for sharing and opening our eyes to this....just so I am careful of what I copy and such.  PS>>>yes, I remember the teachers in 4th, 5th, & 6th grade, talking about copyright laws.

Nov 05, 2006 10:21 AM #9
Jeff Belonger
Social Media - Infinity Home Mortgage Company, Inc - Cherry Hill, NJ
The FHA Expert - FHA Loans - FHA mortgages - USDA loans - VA Loans
PS...I would love to see more of your collection of the crabs that you have done. Cute and a great idea because of the Maryland Crabs...
Nov 05, 2006 10:22 AM #10
Leigh Brown
Leigh Brown & Associates, RE/MAX Executive - Charlotte, NC
CEO, Dream Maker - Charlotte, NC

this was one reason i chose the web company i went with-they insisted that i select all photos and pay for it when the design work was done.   i appreciate that kind of honesty and well, intelligence.

Nov 05, 2006 10:41 AM #11
Tricia Jumonville
Bradfield Properties - Georgetown, TX
Texas REALTOR , Agent With Horse Sense

Thanks for posting this!  Since I'm not only a real estate agent but a volunteer editor for a national horse publication, and a moderator of several YahooGroups lists (with their strict TOS against copyright violation), I have to keep up with this and have the website of the U.S. Copyright Office bookmarked, as well as belonging to a copyright list just so I can listen to the copyright attorneys argue, even if I don't understand half of what they're saying! ;-)  People who don't take copyright seriously but me a LOT.

And good for you in going after the copyright violators.  There's way too much stuff floating around the internet now as "author unknown" when the author is, indeed, known, and somewhat distressed at getting neither credit nor even attribution.

By the way, lest any of you think otherwise, just crediting someone doesn't make the copyright violation go away.  Unless it was published before 1923 (and even then it's good to check), you should assume that whatever it is, it's copyrighted and if you, yourself, are not the copyright holder (and you'll know for sure if you are because you will have either created the item or purchased the copyright and have a contract so stating), you should keep your mits off. 

Yeah, I do have issues about this. 


Nov 05, 2006 11:56 AM #12
Deb Salkeld
Diversified Data Solutions, L.L.C. - Macomb, MI
Your Real Estate Virtual Assistant
Thanks for such a comprehensive explanation of copywrite law, and how it applies to websites.  Eye-opening - Everyone who builds websites should read it!  Great idea about hopping in the car and taking your own.  You mentioned having hundreds of your own - are you speaking of the photo software and various programs that offer 500,000 photos and images?  Thanks for a very informative article.
Nov 05, 2006 02:18 PM #13
Ginger Sala
Wilkinson & Associates, Wilmington NC - Wilmington, NC
Wilmington NC Real Estate & Relocation~


I am clueless about creating images like the crab line you have done. They are adorable!

Why not blog us on how it's done?



Nov 05, 2006 02:27 PM #14
Gerhard Ade
RSVP Real Estate - Seattle, WA
Real Estate with Confidence

Ade HouseThanks Len! Lots of good information on an important subject for all bloggers. Len writes: "If you DID write or create it, use it.  If you didn't, don't.  That is so amazing simple."

Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup canI am not an attorney either but I know from experience that it isn't always that simple. Take those maps, for example. They are Len's because she or someone else has created them for her and she bought the maps with the copyright to use them. Now we know that the artist needed some references for creating these maps. The source: other maps!

Same with the written word: nothing I write hasn't been written about already and I may be using phrases that others have used without knowing. (Using one source is plagarism, using several is editing, the saying goes.)

Using a copyrighted image for another purpose or modifying an image is allowed as long as the created work is "original". Take the Campbell Soup can that Andy Warhol created as a painting (shown to the left). The can design AND the painting of the can are protected under copyright law. My use of the Andy Warhol art in this blog comment is a "fair use" because I am using it to make a point.

Nov 05, 2006 03:02 PM #15
Sharon Simms
Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International - Saint Petersburg, FL

Gerhard - can you tell us more, or blog, about "fair use"?

Lenn - I'm assuming that if I take a photo of a can of Campbell's tomato soup that that's my photo and ok to use?

Photos of homes that we take - does it matter if the house number is showing?  

What about taking a photo that has people in it - i.e., a photo of a Saturday morning market?

Nov 05, 2006 09:16 PM #16
Tricia Jumonville
Bradfield Properties - Georgetown, TX
Texas REALTOR , Agent With Horse Sense

Fair use is well-known to be, while a great excuse used by people who want to violate the copyright of others, and in some cases a valid reason, a very slim reed upon which to base your entire defense against a charge of copyright infringement.  It's pretty much decided on a case-by-case basis, and you, as the infringer, have to prove that you did NOT infringe copyright; the copyright holder doesn't have to prove that you did, because the evidence of infringement is pretty much right there in front of the court.

In essence, in claiming fair use, you're saying, "Yes, I violated copyright, BUT I did it claiming fair use."  Not a really strong argument unless you're, say, a professional book reviewer or something.  Best to have another leg to stand on in addition to "fair use".

Which is why, common courtesy and ethics aside, it's a really good idea to go to the trouble to get permission if you want to use someone else's work instead of your own. 

U.S. Copyright Office Website - this is the "plain English" quick primer on copyright, but last I checked, you could get to the actual statutes from this page - they are on the website.  This is just one resource I use to keep myself honest and out of trouble as far as copyright is concerned!


Nov 05, 2006 11:42 PM #17
Michele Connors
The Overton Group, LLC Pitt & Carteret County - Greenville, NC
Your Eastern North Carolina Realtor

I  admit to being guilty of not really knowing my boundaries to the degree I should ..I appeciate the information and will take seriously the implications. I too was one thinking google was a source of available images unless it was watermarked or stamped copyright protected.

A few yrs ago when I lived in Chapel Hill (and had a business partner) we asked a very reputable photographer if we could use his local photograpy for our RE website- wonderful historic homes and seasonal photos of the university etc..- he granted us full permission as long as we recognized him as the photographer. We even added a little bio on him to surely credit him for his wonderful photos.


Nov 06, 2006 01:24 AM #18
Michael Roberts
Real Estate Professionals of Glynn - Saint Simons Island, GA
Copyright infridgement is a really interesting thing.  One of my avocations is the music industry.  And I have been involved in dealing with the theft of intellectual property for sometime.  Your diligent INDIVIDUAL ENFORCEMENT is exceptional.  In the music world, it is only the BIG names that the enforcement agencies protect.  Little guys...  NOT... you see it falls to the individual effort and some just don't feel it is worth the time.  I for one think you should be commended for your individual efforts.  Creativity no matter where it shows up is still the result of an individual's effort and it should be respected.
Nov 06, 2006 02:08 AM #19
Robert D. Ashby
Visual Approach Aerial Photography (Visual Approach Photography) - Plantation, FL
Turning Visions into Photographs (and Videos)
ANother good place to get pictures is from
Nov 06, 2006 02:45 AM #20
Gerhard Ade
RSVP Real Estate - Seattle, WA
Real Estate with Confidence

Ade HouseTricia makes a good point: better save than sorry. On the US Government website she mentions in her comment above it says this about Fair Use:

"The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations..."

On the same web page is also a good definition of what is NOT covered by copyright (copyright and trademark rights are often confused).

From my professional experience with copyright and fair use: I have created several corporate annual reports. I hired photographers on behalf of my clients and, unless there was a "for hire" contract, the photographers retained the copyright for their work. The annual report itself also had copyright notice (copyright symbol, year of publication, name of company).

Obiously, the corporation WANTED the annual report to be quoted in the media and the photographer who had retained his/her copyright for the photos WANTED the publicity of the photographs being shown in the media. (This is called Public Relations :-)

Fair Use does not have to be a "great excuse" for using someone else's work, as Tricia says above.

In answer to Sharon's question above about house numbers and faces of people in photographs: For PUBLIC use, you need to get the permission of the people whose faces are recognizable. Make the house number illegible. If your are the listing agent, the house number is fine on the MLS and the flyer for the house, but if you use that same photograph as a "generic" photo to promote your services it would be best to make the number illegible. Obviously, you can only use the photograph if you have taken it yourself or have permission by the photograher for a specific or every instance of use. 


Nov 06, 2006 04:41 AM #21
Tricia Jumonville
Bradfield Properties - Georgetown, TX
Texas REALTOR , Agent With Horse Sense

"Fair Use does not have to be a "great excuse" for using someone else's work, as Tricia says above."  But when it becomes an issue, it's often, perhaps usually, not because it's a very clear case of fair use but rather of someone using fair use as a (somewhat flimsy) shield for actions that are less than honorable.

No, it doesn't have to be.  But it is all too often used as such when people don't want to go to the trouble to get permission or think, for some reason, that they wouldn't receive said permission. 

The situation you describe is one in which all the parties are in accord on the appropriate use of the product - in fact, it sounds like there are contracts that specifically state so (can't imagine any corporation with deep pockets not having such).  The press is rarely, if ever, guilty of copyright violation, simply because they are SO aware of it and SO careful not to be.  Quoting a small portion of a work in order to write a critique of it for a critic's column is a pretty clear case of fair use - one of the few relatively cut and dried ones, in fact. 

 A professor copying individual short stories out of a compilation exclusively for the use of his students in class so that they don't have to buy the whole work?  Much, MUCH fuzzier - it's been known to go either way in different cases.  The Kinko's case (which they lost) in which they were doing such copying for the professors and, of course, charging for the work, is a landmark one (and one I'm especially aware of as the wife of someone who owns a printing company - private, not Kinko's, but I doubt there's an owner of that kind of company anywhere in the U.S. who isn't aware of it and who doesn't require releases before copying any such works). 

 And, yes, the Andy Warhol soup can art would have been a trademark violation issue, not a copyright violation issue. 

"Creativity no matter where it shows up is still the result of an individual's effort and it should be respected."

Huzzah! Well said!  That's the bottom line purpose for copyrights in the first place - to reward those who are creative and whose works we appreciate, and to not kill the goose that lays the golden egg (with credit to - hmmm, is it the Brothers Grimm or Anderson or Aesop?  Oh, heck, that was before 1923 anyway!). 


Nov 06, 2006 05:02 AM #22
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