Data Licensing MLS (Multiple Listing Service) Public Portals

Data License Provisions and Restrictions…The Evolution Continues

The real estate industry has been concerned with the unauthorized use of Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data since I first started selling real estate in California in 1975. As a CAR Director in the 1990s, I recall incidents and threats of litigation involving moving companies that were using MLS data they obtained by Dempsey Dumpster Diving for MLS books (remember the books?).

As MLS data made its way to the Web over the last 18 years…from first generation publishing portals such as Realtor.com, HomeSeekers, HomeAdvisor, and Homes.com…to the second generation publisher portals such as Trulia, Zillow, RealEstate.com and others, there has been much misunderstanding and abuse. Data Distribution (Syndication) will continue to evolve over the next few years into “Selective Syndication” and “Data RIghts Management.” Below are data use provisions/restrictions which I have collected and vetted over the last two years.

What do you think of them? In order for third MLS data publishers to utilize MLS data, I believe that, unless granted authority otherwise, third party publishers of MLS data must adhere to the following:

  1. Publisher is not allowed to sublicense the licensed data nor use or display licensed data in any derivative works.
  2. Publisher may not capture leads from the display of specific listings and sell them back to the participant broker/agent or divert them to third parties (the ‘three-headed monster’).
  3. Publisher may not feature any other persons or companies associated with a specific  broker’s listing in a more prominent manner as the listing broker in any advertisement or promotion.
  4. Publisher may only display the licensed data in the context of a consumer display (not, for example, display on an agent’s mobile app).
  5. Publisher may not retain any licensed data after termination of the syndication agreement or after a participant has opted-out.
  6. Publisher may not re-syndicate and must retain custody of the licensed data and not operate sites on behalf of third parties, even if framed on a third party site or powered by publisher
  7. Publisher may not modify the licensed data in any material way
  8. Publisher must provide a link on each listing display that directs consumers to the URL provided with each listing where consumers can access extended property information
  9. Publisher must promptly update their site upon any update of licensed data
  10. Participants must have access to a dashboard where they can change the opt-in and opt-out selections regarding any publisher

If publishers will not agree to these license provisions, they will be denied the data feed from the MLS. Publisher portals are free to ask sellers for the data, or brokers, or agents. Of course data from these sources is not be as accurate or timely…but these portals will still have access to the data, so any cries of anti–trust will be muted by the facts. Some MLSs may decide to allow for fewer data restrictions for a fee. Some may also charge the same RETS Feed fees they charge other vendors, such as IDX vendors, imposing the same sorts of restrictions.

MLSs provide the most relevant, timely, and accurate data for real estate professionals, and their customers. As we move to the next step of the evolution of MLS data on the Web, we will find more MLSs and associations deciding to employ public portals, for direct monetization, as PCM (Protect – Control – Monetize) continues to roll forward.

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