A copyright battle between Zillow and VHT Inc. over photographs took a sharp turn this week when U.S. District Judge James Robart largely sided with the Seattle real estate powerhouse, going against an earlier jury verdict in the case.
In February, a jury in U.S. District Court in Seattle supported VHT’s allegations that Zillow violated copyrights of 28,000 photos, ordering the company to pay $8.3 million in damages. VHT, which provides photography and image management services, originally filed its complaint in July 2015, claiming that photos displayed or saved to the Zillow Digs website violated the company’s copyrights.
Zillow appealed the jury’s verdict, citing insufficient evidence of copyright infringement on several counts. In this week’s ruling, Robart said “the jury had no rational basis on which to conclude” that 22,109 of those photos violated VHT’s copyright.
Robart upheld the portion of the jury’s verdict that held Zillow liable for willfully infringing on 2,700 of those photographs. He reduced the damages against Zillow from $8.3 million to a little over $4 million.
In a statement, VHT CEO Brian Balduf called Robart’s ruling on those 2,700 photos “important because it protects the interests of photographers, real estate agents, brokerages, homebuyers, and sellers.”
The court has ordered a new trial to determine whether Zillow is responsible for indirect copyright infringement of an additional 114 VHT photos.
“We have persistently maintained our belief that this suit was without merit and we are pleased that the court largely supported our position,” a Zillow spokesperson told GeekWire via email. “We are currently evaluating the verdict and deciding on what our next steps will be. We take copyright protection and enforcement seriously and will continue to respect copyright permissions across our platforms.”
Zillow Digs, the website that is the focus of this lawsuit, is the company’s home improvement hub.
Robart has scheduled a status conference between the two parties Friday, June 30. His complete ruling is available below.