Zillow Ordered to Pay $2 Million to VHT for Unlicensed Use of Listing Photos

Updated: Jan 31

A six-year court battle over the destiny of sold listing images appears to be finished.

Judge James L. Robart of the U.S. District Court in Seattle ruled on Wednesday that Zillow must pay VHT Studios almost $2 million in damages for using thousands of VHT's images on its website.

For the companies, it has been a roller coaster. VHT first sued Zillow in July 2015, claiming the listing giant had stolen its intellectual property by copying its pictures on Zillow Digs, a home renovation website. VHT had over 75,000 real estate professionals as customers at the time.

Except for one brokerage, VHT reserves copyright for all images taken on its behalf by photographers and licenses them to listing agents and brokers solely for promoting the featured property or the company or agency representing it — and only while it is on the market.

But Zillow assured Inman at the time that it had followed the license agreements reached with the photo providers, which included agents, brokers, and multiple listing services. The company said it only utilized photographs for Zillow Digs if licensed.

Agents, brokers, and MLSs granted Zillow a “license to use, copy, distribute, publicly display and perform, and create derivative works of the data, only on and in connection with Zillow's websites and other properties.”

After a listing expires, Zillow keeps the data and gives you credit whenever it displays it on the Zillow website.

In 2017, a jury awarded VHT almost $8 million in damages after ruling that Zillow directly infringed on 28,125 of their photographs, 3,373 of which were deliberately violated.

A federal court later that year reduced the judgment to just over $4 million and reduced the number of “willfully infringed” photographs to 2,700.

Both companies appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018. It later vacated the jury's verdict of intentional infringement of those 2,700 photographs.