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updated: 6/23/2017 4:15 PM

Federal judge reduces VHT’s award in case against Zillow

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  • Brian Balduf

    Brian Balduf


A federal court judge in Washington has reduced the $8.32 million award Rosemont-based VHT Studios received earlier this year in a copyright infringement lawsuit against online real estate site Zillow.

The judge, in reviewing the 28,000 images that were a part of the lawsuit, reversed the jury's decision regarding certain categories of infringement, according to VHT CEO and co-founder Brian Balduf. However, the judge upheld the decision on photos that showed Zillow "willfully" infringed on copyright laws, Balduf said,

As a result, the amount awarded to VHT is slightly more than $4 million.

VHT Studios, which specializes in professional-grade real estate photography and video, filed the complaint in 2015, claiming thousands of its images that appeared on Zillow and its related sites were in violation of copyright laws. In February, the jury sided with VHT and awarded $79,875 in actual damages and $8.24 million in statutory damages.

Balduf said the company will appeal the decision on the rejected categories. However, he said the fact that the judge upheld the jury's findings on the willful infringement category is "important because it protects the interests of photographers, real estate agents, brokerages, homebuyers and sellers.

"Those were the most egregious and the ones we were most concerned with," he said.

Representatives from Seattle-based Zillow did not respond to a request for comment.

VHT is also appealing a December 2016 ruling over Zillow keeping photos on individual home detail pages after the properties are off the market, claiming the photos infringe on privacy rights by showing layouts and rooms of specific homes, along with the addresses.

"It's really more about establishing intellectual property rights in the real estate industry, and the photographs can only be used for the purposes they're licensed for," Balduf said. "This affects anybody who does real estate photographs, not just us. Even agents who shoot their own photographs are affected by this."

Zillow has also been the focus of lawsuits for its "Zestimate" system of estimating home value. Last month, Schaumburg-based homebuilder and Glenview attorney Barbara Andersen sued the Seattle-based company, claiming the company's system violates state real estate appraisal laws.