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Appraiser Wins Copyright Suit: Now What?


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And they said it couldn’t be done. Tim Vining, MAI becomes the first appraiser in the U.S. to successfully sue and win for copyright infringement of his intellectual property – his appraisal.

The culprit is a real estate broker who lifted Vining’s work for use in a sales brochure. According to Vining, who specializes in the appraisal of agricultural properties in Washington State, this was not the first time he found his work in reports that he did not author and for which he was not paid. This time he decided to do something about it.

Now What?

The case resolves the debate whether appraisal reports are copyrightable. Clearly they are. But now what? What does this mean for the average appraiser, which in many ways Tim Vining is not. And can copyright protection help in the struggle with AVMs, which appraisers have long suspected are fueled by data lifted from their reports without their permission.

Vining’s presentation at the a la mode Winter Convention in Las Vegas this month makes clear that while the results of his case are encouraging, the circumstances are unique: the property in question is a large-scale diversified agricultural enterprise of several thousand acres. Work from his 250-page report is unique and easily recognizable. Also unique are the potential damages; reports such as these take months to complete and command fees upwards of $20,000.

Controlling the Data

While it would be much more difficult for a residential form filler to identify his or her work in another appraisal report and to prove infringement, many appraisers at the show agreed that it is not impossible.

In any case, the point of copyrighting appraisals is not to seek a large windfall but to take control of your product, according to Matt Barr, Communications Director at a la mode. "Copyright isn't a get rich quick scheme for appraisers. It’s a tool that appraisers can use to either prohibit the unauthorized use of their work or to get paid if they do decide to license it,â€

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