Who Owns The Material
*This material is copyrighted by Carolyne Realty Corp. and may not be reprinted without permission in writing.
(If you are an agent, you have permission to make a link to this article, keeping the copyright information in tact. Do not duplicate the material on your site in any other way. Email Carolyne@Carolyne.com if you have any questions.)
Do you have assistant? Do you use the services of a virtual assistant? Did you hire a company to build your web site(s)? Does your assistant do that job?
If so, have you instructed your assistant on the topic of copyright and copyright infringement? Theft? Stolen property? They should already know, but on the off chance that they don’t, whatever they write on your behalf had better be original. They cannot just copy and paste articles written by someone else and properly identified as being copyrighted, or even if the article is not officially marked copyrighted, and use that material on your web site. They certainly cannot say they authored it. They absolutely cannot say that “you” authored it. And, you HAVE violated the REALTOR®’s Code of Ethics - Article 12 (in part) that says: REALTORS® shall be careful at all times to present a true picture in their advertising and representations to the public.
Permissions must be sought and granted, in writing, for reprint rights, in whole or in part. Otherwise you and your assistant and/or the company you hired to build your web site(s) have broken the law. Your assistant and/or the company is an extension of you. You are an extension of your broker. The chain of command flows upward and sideways. It can get very expensive because both you, the company or assistant, and your broker are responsible and will be held accountable. You will have to pay dearly for this offence, not just in real dollars, but you may find that you are permanently banned by the search engines for using duplicate copy.
Permission(s) to reprint in typical paper print media, is different. As long as the copyright is noted, permission(s) granted, reprinting on paper doesn’t affect the engines. Even when permission is granted to reproduce, on the web you must be very careful, because the engines do not like duplicate copy and as the spiders crawl and find such duplicate copy, they can and often do, ban “all” the relative sites, not knowing who is the originator of the material. Ideally, only a link to the permissioned materials would serve everyone better, always noting the copyright holder or some such reference to “Authored By:” and reprinted with permission. Keep notes, so you can produce the permissions as granted.
SEO – search engine optimization - that uses duplicate copy could cause all related sites to be banned from the web, permanently. The damages mount and can be vast dollar damages. You may cause the copyright owner’s sites to come down as well, in which case the damages could be huge. And it all goes to the root of the problem. You. It was your theft that started this scenario. You cannot blame anyone else. Just like the rules of the road: you cannot tell the police officer you didn’t know what the speed limit is. He simply will not care whether you do or you don’t. All he knows is that you have broken the law. Think it through before you violate copyrighted articles.
In most cases, it is not sufficient for you just to remove the copy that has been stolen and implanted onto your web site and offer apologies. There will be dollars to be paid for damages, sometimes BIG dollars.Surely you do know that you are responsible for the actions of your assistant, including anything “they write” on your behalf. Surely you know that, unless you have an agreement otherwise, neither you nor your helpers can take, and use in any fashion, materials written by someone else, that you or they found on someone else’s web site, even if the material is on a news feed. You must identify as to where the material came from. This is not just common courtesy. This is the law. Intellectual Property Theft.
Are you aware that, as the Broker/Owner, Broker of Record, Franchise Owner, Managing Broker, head honcho, call your title what you will – by definition, YOU are responsible? YOU will be held accountable for everything on your agents’ web sites? Do you even know what’s on your agents’ web sites?Did anyone ever tell you that your web site is a “form of advertising?” Of course you know that. And of course you know that you, as an agent, are responsible for false or misleading advertising in general, but did you know that your Broker is responsible for everything that comes out of your pen in the form of any and all kinds of advertising – including “everything” your web site. You say you are an independent contractor. The flowers that bloom in the spring – tra-la, have nothing to do with the case. Doesn’t matter. You are responsible to the Agency you work for. And, in turn, the Agency is responsible for your actions. If you have partners, they too could be held responsible. Is one of the partners deemed responsible for all advertising? Do you have insurance for these sorts of situations?
Does your Broker even know you have a web site? Did he/she read every piece of information on your web site, prior to your web site being uploaded to the Net for all the world to see? Does he/she check all the details? Most likely not. Should she/he do so? ABSOLUTELY… if not in person, then someone must be appointed to be responsible for this area of the office. You are, and everything you do is, an extension of the office.
There are settlements already on record in the range of one hundred thousand dollars, and there may be others in higher dollar amounts. Yes, that’s $100,000.00 in real cash money that a court said must be paid to validate the ownership of web site material taken without permission and used on another person’s web site, due to copyright violation. The courts take theft of intellectual property rights VERY seriously.
Material is copyrighted by virtue of putting pen to paper. If you wrote it, yourself, you own it. More formal copyright applications can apply when material is of a specific creative nature, relating to specific industries or trade secrets.
If you are building your web site yourself, or have had someone else build a web site for you, have you taken into consideration or even thought about it? It being that you have placed “stolen” copy on your web site? If you are found out, and articles authored/written and/or already officially published by a colleague on their web site or in some other venue, and you or your assistant or web master has helped themselves to (read – taken) material written by someone else and mounted it on your web site, you and/or your broker (whoever is the boss over advertising) are left vulnerable to having to write a very large check to the owner of the material(s). Unless you can settle out of court, a judge will decide the dollar-value of the damages. In most cases, you would be wiser to settle, to keep your own legal costs down.
In most cases, it is not sufficient for you just to remove the copy that has been stolen and implanted onto your web site. There will be dollars to be paid, sometimes BIG dollars. It’s not enough to say you’re sorry. Business damages can be huge as the result of your theft.
It is bad enough to use stolen material on your web site, but to be found out by the owner of an article when the author locates his/her stolen material on your web site, saying: Written by: and “your name” is there on the computer screen indicating that “you authored” the article(s) yourself, you are in big trouble.Likewise, since you now have indicated that you are the author, you and/or your assistants may have linked your (not) article to other important big company web sites. Now the article has traveled to points unknown, such as on employee relocation sites and others that are well read, with millions of hits. Now the employee relocation site is in trouble, too, thanks to your actions. They are now copyright violators, too, due to your theft being permeated throughout their system, having you marked as the author of the article(s). This reflects badly on them, and they too can be held accountable for not checking to make sure that when you are quoted as one of their “authors” on site, that you in fact, have not supplied them with stolen goods.
If you are found with stolen goods in your car, even if you didn’t steal the property yourself, you “will” be held accountable. You need to be able to prove that anything in your possession is, in fact, yours and does not belong to someone else. If you think about copyright in these terms, it will be very easy to understand. Some people write for a living. It is their only source of income. If they wrote it, they own it. Others write complimentary material for industry magazines. Others write books. Unless written under contract for someone else, the writer owns the material and unless stated otherwise, owns the copyright. The same thing applies to photography and to graphics designed for the web. If you paid a graphic artist to design special maps for your web site and someone else decided the maps were perfect for their web site and took the maps and used them and/or instructed someone else to mount the graphics on their own web site, then they are in copyright violation. Infringement. Intellectual Property Theft. Plain and simple. The thief will be liable to pay out money, often big money to the copyright owner.
Could you write a check for a hundred thousand dollars or more when a judge finds in favor of the owner, the writer? the real author? The judge has already done this in many cases. He has ordered the thief to pay up. Agents may not be aware of the impact this will have on their personal lives. When the thief goes out to borrow money, he will not be able to, until the matter is settled, not just in the courts but not until the settlement has been paid in full to the injured party; the judge’s findings will appear on your credit report. This will affect your credit rating as well as your standing in the community, and now in the world of the world-wide-web, as well. You could be banned indefinitely or permanently by the web world. Govern your actions accordingly. Is it worth it?
Something to think about: Who owns “your” web site? and ALL the material on it? you? your broker? the franchise? What’s in your independent contractor contract? What’s in your employee contract?
Readers will find this blog particularly interesting. You can contact Tim McCormack, directly, with your questions. He and I are cross-linking blogs with the hope that both articles will provide a learning curve for those who have interest in the topic. Although Tim is in Seattle, WA - he has great interest in international copyright law. http://www.mccormacklegal.com:80/blog/featured-articles/copyright-infringement-Ė-i-didnít-knowPLEASE NOTE: this material is copyright Carolyne Realty Corp. and may not be reprinted or duplicated in any form without the written consent of the copyright holder.
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