In a copyright dispute between rival real estate listings websites, an appeals court has for the first time ruled on the effect of the federal E-Sign Act on copyrights. Finding that the E-Sign Act applies to copyright transfers, the Fourth Circuit held that copyright interests can legally be transferred electronically.
Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc. v. American Home Realty Network Inc., 4th Cir., No. 12-2102, is a dispute arising out of American Home Realty Network’s (AHRN) use of Metropolitan Regional Information System’s (MRIS) copyrighted photographs on its website. MRIS operates a fee-based real estate listings service for real estate brokers and agents, while AHRN takes listings data from compilers like MRIS and offers it directly to consumers. AHRN displayed MRIS’ photographs on its website, which MRIS contended constituted infringement under the Copyright Act. A district court granted MRIS’ request for a preliminary injunction prohibiting AHRN’s display of MRIS’ photographs on its website.
The Fourth Circuit’s decision to apply the E-Sign Act to copyright transfers adds legal certainty to the practice of electronically assigning copyright interests, and should further protect those practices from legal challenge, at least in the Fourth Circuit.