Fight Over Real Estate Listings Escalates As NeighborCity Counters Copyright Claims With Antitrust Accusations

from the fight-picks-up dept

Back in May we wrote about how some multiple-listing services (MLSs), at the apparent behest of some annoyed real estate agents, were suing the website NeighborCity (technically its parent company American Home Realty Network (AHRN)), claiming copyright infringement. As we noted at the time, the copyright claims seemed somewhat dubious, as one of the MLSs, Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. (MRIS), appeared to mostly be claiming copyright over factual information. There were a few other problems with the lawsuit as well. But, the real issue was that it seemed quite clear that the lawsuit had little to do with copyright at all, but was about real estate agents not liking the fact that NeighborCity had started rating real estate agents. AHRN claimed that it suddenly started getting complaints and threat letters (many of which were very similar) right after the National Association of Realtors' annual meeting in November 2011. There was also an email accidentally sent to AHRN's CEO, by one of the execs from an MLS that filed the lawsuit, which basically admitted they wanted to bring a "world of hurt" to the company. Of course, making the matter even more complex, is that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) got in trouble for antitrust violations a few years ago.

Given all that, it's not surprising to see that in AHRN's latest response to the original lawsuits, it's filed counterclaims arguing that the actions are antitrust violations. The fact that NAR offered to cover the legal expenses for the MLSs only makes the situation look worse for NAR -- and advances the suggestion that this is really about realtors being pissed off that someone is holding them accountable. NeighborCity highlights that soon after the original lawsuits were filed, NAR approved $161,667 in legal fees for these kinds of legal efforts, despite it not actually being a part of the lawsuit.
Defendants’ coordinated: (a) cease and desist letters to AHRN, (b) refusals to deal letters to AHRN; (c) repudiation letters to AHRN, (3) sham lawsuits against AHRN and (d) agreement or offer to pay for or contribute to the costs of litigation against AHRN by MLSs and real estate brokers, was intended to and did have anti-competitive effects on AHRN in the market for real estate brokerage services. Anti-competitive effects include the elimination of price competition and price maintenance on brokerage services above market levels nationwide, impeding and blocking market entry by AHRN and other
We're quite used to seeing legacy players in an industry fight innovation and upstart competitors who change the nature of a market, but it's rare to see cases where it seems so incredibly blatant that they're doing this just because they don't like the service in question, rather than via any sort of legitimate copyright claim.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 3:29am

    So many acronyms, sounds like AHRN are going to land in the SH 1T

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 3:48am

    Are real estate listings "facts" or proprietary information?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 6:10am

      Re:

      How is this even a question? Listings are a whole page of facts. If you want to copyright the little blurb of fluff describing the house, fine, but the rest of the listing is comprised of facts.

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 9:40am

      Re:

      What do you mean by "proprietary information"? When I've heard the term in the past, it's been used to mean "trade secret". Since a trade secret ceases to be a trade secret when you publish it, then real estate listings are not that.

      The listings contain facts: this house is for sale at this price by this entity. The listings themselves may be copyrightable because they consist of creative work that contain the facts (layout, wording, etc.) but the facts they contain are not.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 4:32am

    MLSs are following the Hollywood business mode, sue any new competitors out of existence.

     

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  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    Using weird outliers as examples is always effective when trying to convince normal people to hop on the zealot train.






    /s

     

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    abc gum, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 5:25am

    Let me guess ... soon agents will require the assigning of all review copyrights to them, like some doctors and dentists. An alternative they may not have considered is doing a better job of satisfying the customer.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 6:15am

    Mr. Masnick would benefit from learning more about how MLSs work. Many MLSs have copyrighted the compilation of MLS listings. NeighborCity has violated that copyright by scraping the listing data - often directly from an MLS site, including copyright warnings - and displaying it as their own. It is classic copyright infringement and the fact that the author of this article doesn't get it is bewildering.

     

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      fogbugzd (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 6:32am

      Re:

      The question is not that clear cut. In the US facts by themselves cannot be copyrighted. Some European countries have forms of database copyright, but not the US. It does not matter if the facts are gathered from scraping pages or consulting an encyclopedia. I suspect the case will hinge on whether creative elements were copied.

       

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        abc gum, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 6:48am

        Re: Re:

        I think a recent ruling having to do with a cookbook stated that the facts (recipe) are not subject to copyright, only the presentation.

         

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      Atkray (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 8:49am

      Re:

      Mr. Anonymous Coward would benefit from learning more about how reading comprehension works. Many Techdirt articles have detailed explanations of what they are discussing. Trolls like to read a headline and then draw an erroneous conclusion - often without even skimming the article, missing the explanations and background information that enables understanding. It is classic trolling and the fact that the author of this post doesn't get it is bewildering.

       

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        fogbugzd (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 9:19am

        Re: Re:

        In this case the AC might not have been a regular reader. In my mind* this is the scenario of how this comment came to be posted: AC is a Realtor who was upset about the rating system and was aware of the lawsuit. Someone walked into the MLS office and said "Hey, you know that NeighborCity lawsuit? Some jerk over at a website called Techdirt just wrote some nonsense about it." AC looked up TD and commented.

        *Disclaimer: Things in my mind may not mesh with reality.

         

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    art guerrilla (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 8:57am

    gatekeepers, gatekeepers everywhere, but not a gate to keep...

    like *most* salesdroids, realtors are slippery people...
    (check your conscience at the door)

    *of course* they don't want real, honest, and spot-on reviews of their 'services', 'cause that would point out how slimy they are...

    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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    Gregg, Oct 11th, 2012 @ 8:58am

    Copyright This...

    Mother Nature holds the copyright and patent on Nature, so that should pretty much nullify anything that came afterwards.

     

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    The Amazing Sammy (profile), Oct 11th, 2012 @ 3:45pm

    I HATE working with MLS services and RETS systems. They suck so bad. Interfacing with them is pure hell. Working with the people that manage them is worse.

     

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    sgb, Oct 17th, 2012 @ 10:43am

    An agent's perspective

    The issue many agents are having is that the data does not property convey an agents business. My profile is so wrong it is laughable - except for the very important fact that is has the real potential do damage my business. I have sold over $10 million this year The data does not reflect this. It shows me with 4 listings - I have 16, It shows me with 17 sales - I have 32. I am a member of multiple mls's, apparently they do not quantify the data.

    Beyond that, they make their money be referring business to agents on their site. There are many other companies that do this. The difference is they ask you to be on their site - they don't simply through up a "profile" with erroneous information without even verifying it.

    The bottom line is, if they either cannot or will not verify the data, they should not bad information out for the public to see. It is bad for agents and it is also bad for consumers. The only entity this is good for is Neighborcity.

     

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    identicon
    Web, Jul 10th, 2013 @ 8:44pm

    Neighborcity.com promotes "Dual Agency"

    I listed a property in the MLS and received a "Referral" from Neighborcity.com saying they had a buyer for my listing and if a transaction is made, their referral fee is 30%.

    If Neighborcity.com really cared about buyers, they would refer their buyer to an agent who is not the same agent who listed the property of interest.

    They only care about the 30% fee. If the referral goes directly to the listing agent, neighborcity increases its chances of making their referral fee via the greed of agents who are trying to double end transactions.

     

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    identicon
    SMS, Aug 31st, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Neighbor city

    Info grossly inaccurate. I fact, g
    Has incorrect info on realtor. In some cases, it has merged two realtors into nor a profile for a total distortion. They are hurting the hard working realtors so thy can make a quick buck. They need to be shut down.

     

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