Fourth Circuit Upholds Preliminary Injunction Prohibiting Display of MLS Photographs on Real Estate Website

August 20, 2013, 1:57 PM

In an opinion issued on July 17, 2013, the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (Fourth Circuit) affirmed a preliminary injunction issued by the district court prohibiting American Home Realty Network, Inc. (AHRN) from displaying photographs of Metropolitan Regional Information Systems, Inc. (MRIS) on AHRNs website.

MRIS operates an online multiple listing service which lists information about available homes and offers this service to subscribers in several states. The terms of use for the MRIS database state that all photographs submitted become the exclusive property of MRIS, and MRIS places a copyright notice on all photographs published in its database.

AHRN operates a website at neighborcity.com which is a national real estate search engine and referral business. AHRN displayed on its website copyrighted photographs taken from the MRIS database. MRIS sent a cease and desist letter to AHRN, and in response, AHRN proposed a custom license under which AHRN could continue to use the photographs. MRIS rejected the idea and filed suit for copyright infringement, obtaining a preliminary injunction against AHRN.

In affirming the preliminary injunction, the Fourth Circuit held that MRIS satisfied pre-suit registration requirements of Section 409 of the Copyright Act, and MRIS was not barred from asserting infringement of its copyrighted photographs which were registered as component works in its automated database registrations. The Fourth Circuit concluded that an electronic transfer agreement may effect a valid transfer of copyright interests under Section 204 of the Copyright Act, and based on the same, the district court correctly concluded that MRIS is likely to succeed against AHRN in establishing ownership of the copyrights in the photographs used by AHRN.

Metro. Regl Info. Sys. Inc. v. Am. Home Realty Networking, Inc., Nos. 12-2102, 12-2432 (4th Cir. July 17, 2013)

Kristan B. Burch is Co-Chair of the firms Intellectual Property Law and Franchising Practice Group. She regularly serves as counsel in intellectual property matters in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.Kristan B. Burch