A federal judge this week ordered Seattle-based Zillow to pay nearly $2 million as the result of a copyright infringement case from an Illinois-based photography company.
The case stems from Zillow’s 2014 use of images on a home improvement section of its website, known at the time as Zillow Digs. The site allowed homeowners to price home renovations and included photos taken by VHT, a real estate photography company that licenses photos of homes for marketing purposes.
In a decision Wednesday, U.S. District Judge James Robart found “Zillow’s infringement of 388 of VHT’s images before July 10, 2014 was innocent, and that its infringement of 2,312 of VHT’s images after July 10, 2014 was not innocent.” VHT sent Zillow a cease-and-desist letter on July 10, 2014. Robart ordered total damages of $1.93 million along with interest.
Zillow spokesperson Viet Shelton said Thursday, “We appreciate the court’s ruling and believe it to be an overall favorable decision on the matter.”
According to case records, VHT contacted Zillow after seeing its photos on the site and the two companies discussed a possible licensing agreement. Ultimately, Zillow decided to “go in another direction,” and VHT later sent the cease-and-desist letter. Zillow removed the photos in 2016.
Zillow accesses photos through agreements with real estate brokers and listing services and “reasonably believed” those providers had licensed the photos and Zillow could post them, according to Robart’s decision.
The case has wound its way through the courts since VHT sued in 2015. In 2017, a federal jury ordered Zillow to pay $8.3 million, but the court reversed a portion of that verdict and both sides appealed. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals later sided in part with Zillow and a portion of the case was returned to the lower court.