Copyright Considerations and Listing Photos

What is Copyright?

Copyright is a law that gives you ownership of the things you create.  Real estate professionals must be cognizant of copyright issues when it comes to listing content, most notably in connection with listing photographs. As original works of authorship, listing photographs are copyrighted, and the owner may dictate how the photos are used.

Improper use of listing content can create legal problems for agents, brokerages and MLSs. It’s crucial that real estate professionals know their rights regarding listing photos and listing content, as well as risk management strategies that can be used to avoid copyright infringement.

In other words, copyright means you need to give permission for others to use your photos and you need to get permission to use others’ photos.  

For best practices tips, see this video from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Why Permission Matters

Since copyright protects creative works, the owner of the copyright has the authority to reproduce, distribute, perform, display, and prepare derivative works. By having permission to use photos you can do all these items. If you do not have permission, you could be setting yourself up for a Copyright legal battle.

I paid the photographer for the photos. That means I own them, right?  Not Necessarily.

You did pay for the photos, but the answer comes down to the agreement that was signed with the photographer. You likely only paid for the rights to use the photos in a limited capacity, meaning you (and only you) have the right to display the photos in connection with the real estate industry. In other words, the photographer intended for you to use or reproduce the photos to be marketed and published in the MLS compilation. When in doubt, review the agreement you signed with the photographer.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is SmartMLS Photographer Access?

SmartMLS has decided to make photography management in our MLS platform easier and faster for those who opt in. When a photographer joins, they are given a Photographer User Name and password to directly upload their photos to specific listings that a Listing Agent has assigned to them. The photographer will only have access to the photo upload module and will not be able to modify or change any other listing information.

how are photographers approved for the List?

The photographer must complete the submission form on this page. A SmartMLS representative will email the photographer a User Agreement, where the photographer will agree to the proper license required for all photographs to be placed in the MLS. If you’re a photographer who wants to know more, please contact and we’ll reach out to you with the next steps.

How do I Invite a Photographer to join the Network?

Your photographer can submit an application to join the network here:

I'm a photographer, how can I let agents know I am in the Verified Network?

If you’d like to let agents know you are a SmartMLS authorized photographer, feel free to borrow the following message for your communication with them:

Great news! I have become an authorized photographer in SmartMLS’s Photographer Network. This means I am able to log into the Matrix system with my own login credentials and upload photos and virtual tours on your behalf (should you authorize me to do so).

If you add me as your authorized photographer, I can streamline the process of taking the photos/virtual tours of your listings and uploading the images/videos directly to your listing for you. I am aware of the photo specifications and guidelines for uploading virtual tours to Matrix, so you will never have to worry about managing these processes yourself. If any upload issues arise, I can work directly with MLS support staff to get it sorted out. You can leave all of the media upload to me! Access to your listings is granted on an individual basis, so I will only be able to manage the photos or virtual tours on those listings where you have added me. I will not have access to any other parts of the MLS system, nor can I edit any listings where I have not been specifically added by you.

I'm a photographer, are my clients allowed to sell my photos to another agent or service?
No. Unless you give written permission for anyone else to use your photos, this agreement does not allow listing agents to sell your photos to anyone, including other agents. The only parties that use the photos are those working with or within the MLS to provide services for the listing, including syndication to popular online and mobile platforms, comparative market analyses, and other typical uses of MLS data.
Do I need to input the photographer agreement to save my listing, or is there be a grace period before a fine is Assessed?

Once the rule is implemented, you will receive a Compliance Notification if you have selected “Other” from the Photos Taken By field and a Photographer License agreement has not been uploaded into the Private Photo License supplement folder.  The notification will be sent to the listing agent, with a second to the listing agent and broker.  If the Photo license agreement is not uploaded, a fine will result.

What are specifications for photographs in Matrix?
  • Type: JPG (the most common type taken by digital cameras)
  • File Size: less than 20MB in size (per photo)
  • Ideal Dimensions: 1024 pixels x 768 pixels
  • Ideal Resolution: 96 DPI or better
  • Ideal Aspect Ratio*: 1.33*

*The aspect ratio of an image is calculated by dividing the number of pixels in width by the number of pixels in height.  Matrix uses an aspect ratio of 1.33 (e.g. 1024/768).

  • Orientation: landscape or portrait
  • Quantity: up to 40

*Images received that have a different aspect ratio will be automatically resized to achieve 1.33 and will be padded with white space on either the left and right or top and bottom edges to avoid image stretching.

Why is SmartMLS requiring this?
This change was implemented to protect listing agents and the photos that are uploaded to their listings. Listing photos are creative works that are protected by copyright law. It is vital that you either own the copyright or have the proper license to use any photos that you upload to your listing within the MLS.
What do Photographer agreements have to Contain, and where do I find them?

We provide links to four types of sample agreements here for your reference and use.

I'm a Photographer, can I still use my regular agreement paperwork when I work with an agent?

Yes. If you have any other contracts/agreements that you need for your business, you may still use them. This program only applies to the licensing of listing photos input into SmartMLS. The SmartMLS agreement does not govern any aspect of the Agent/Photographer relationship.

I'm a listing agent. What if a seller gave me the photographs, do I still need an agreement?

Yes.  If someone other than yourself took the photographs you would need a signed agreement.  You can find sample agreements here.

I've Had this listing before, can I reuse the photos?

If you, the listing agent, had personally taken the photos when the property was previously listed and you are now engaged by the current property owners to list the property again, you can reuse the photos you took previously, since you, as the photographer, are the owner of those photos. If the photos were taken by a photographer, you will either need to enter their ID (If they’re in our Verified Photographer Network), or choose “Other” and upload an agreement.

I’m a listing agent. Can anyone use my listing’s photos once they are entered into the MLS?

No, the same MLS rules still apply. Agents may not take photos and use them without getting the original listing agent’s permission. Doing so is a violation that may lead to fines or other consequences.

How do I find the photographer ID? Is my photographer in the network?

We have included a Matrix Search for photographers in the network.  This can be found under the Search menu – labeled MLS Verified Photographer.  

Additionally, the Verified Photographer Field in Matrix has a search by name option, or if your photographer has provided you with the ID you can simply enter it in the field provided. 

You can also view all the members of the network here.

What happens if the listing is entered before a photographer’s application to join the network is approved?

SmartMLS Rules and Regs require that at least one exterior photo be uploaded within 48 hours for all property types except for Land, Business for Sale, or any property that is Proposed New Construction or Under Construction. Once your photographer has been approved, you can always go back into your listing and enter your Verified Photographer’s ID in the “Photos Taken By” field. You may take an exterior picture of the property with your iPhone or Android device, selecting “Self”.  If you select “Other” be prepared to upload a photographer license agreement.