Estate agent leader warns industry over image copyright ‘fines’

Simon Shinerock says companies that demand fines totalling thousands of pounds from agents who mistakenly use images without copyright sign-off are on the rise.

image copyright estate agent

Estate agents have been warned to be vigilant when using photographs within online marketing materials and listings.

Simon Shinerock

Simon Shinerock, boss of national chain Choices, says the industry faces a significant challenge from copyright infringement agencies chasing businesses to demand large sums for photographs they say have been used without permission, often unwittingly he points out.

Shinerock says his compliance director is currently dealing with one such claim for several thousand pounds for a photo used in error some time ago by a branch.

His point is that although all estate agents should only use photographs that have the correct copyright permissions in place, it is very difficult for estate agencies of all sizes to police what their marketing and listings teams do day-to-day in the rush to upload content and get things ‘live’.

But one photographer, speaking anonymously, has told The Negotiator that many freelance photographers consider businesses using their photos without permission as in the wong, and that many believe that there is ‘an epidemic’ of image stealing and, therefore, punitive fines are the only solution to stopping it.

And as another photographer put it in a piece written for The Negotiator, “agents are breaking the law, it’s a simple as that”.


Nevertheless, Shinerock adds: “Once you have used a photo inadvertently, even if that was used a long time ago, then there’s a risk that one of these agencies will track it down and demand large sums of money, often threatening legal action if you don’t,” he says.

Other than trying to negotiate the ‘fine’ downwards, Shinerock says there’s little that agents can do other than trying to ensure tight guidelines for staff who control website content.

“The industry needs to wake up to this – there are a large number of firms who use sophisticated software to track down the unauthorised use of images and it’s a small industry in itself,” he says.

The main challenge for agents is that photographs that might have cost a hundred pound to download via a stock library will attract a claim of several thousand pounds, and collection agencies will often threaten to take take legal action via the small claims court if payment is not made within a time frame.

But there is no legal framework that dictates the level of the claims made so agents unwilling to go to court over the matter have little option but to pay the amount demanded ‘in settlement’.

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