Zillow Group has been sued by real estate image provider VHT over allegations that the Zillow Digs home improvement site is violating copyrights on hundreds of real estate photos.
VHT claims that Zillow does have rights to showcase images on its main listings site, since those photographs are being used to aid in the sale of homes. However, VHT claims in the suit — filed July 8th — that the photos cannot be used on Digs since it is primarily set up to sell advertising related to remodeling projects.
Rosemont, Illinois-based VHT — which owns a database of more than four million real estate photos, including home exteriors and interiors — said that it discussed the issue with Zillow shortly after Digs launched, claiming that Zillow said it did not intend to use the images for the Digs offering. In a preliminary analysis, VHT said that it found 316 images that were improperly used on Zillow Digs, but it believes that is a “small fraction” of the overall number.
The suit notes Zillow “well knows” that VHT holds the copyrights on the images:
Zillow is also abundantly aware that the photographs transmitted by listing agents and brokers to the Zillow Listing Site are licensed by VHT only for purposes of marketing the properties for sale. Nonetheless, when Zillow launched its Digs Site, it populated it with these photographs – not for purpose of marketing the properties – but rather for the purpose of selling advertising for design elements depicted in these photographs. VHT’s photographs remain on the Digs Site to date without license or authority.
The suit continues:
Zillow uses photographs from homes that are not for sale and makes no effort whatsoever to remove those images once properties are sold; it induces users to post images to the Digs Site; it uses those images to induce advertisers to fill Zillow’s coffers with advertising revenue; and it tags and groups the photographs and pastes advertisements directly on top of VHT’s images. Zillow cannot hide behind safe harbors and blame others for its own brazen theft.
VHT is asking U.S. District Court in Western Washington for damages, as well as a permanent injunction barring Zillow from using the images on the Digs site. It also said that it plans to ask the court for access to Zillow’s databases in order to determine the extent of the copyright issue.
In a statement provided to GeekWire, Zillow said the VHT suit is without merit.
“Zillow has abided by the terms of the licenses agreed to by the parties who provided these photos,” a Zillow spokeswoman said. “We respect and enforce copyright protections and permissions across our platforms. We will vigorously fight the allegations and are confident in our position. Beyond that, we won’t comment on specifics of pending litigation.”
Zillow launched Digs in February 2013, with CEO Spencer Rascoff saying it would revolutionize the way people conduct kitchen, patio and bathroom remodeling projects. At the time of the launch, rival Houzz called the service a “complete knockoff” and added that “copycats will come and go.”
Here’s the full suit in which VHT says that Zillow has been on “an aggressive campaign to consolidate and indeed monopolize the market for online real estate listings.”