In the Pre internet days of the last real estate recession, an old pal of mine Phil Gilboy went head to head against his Multiple Listings Service. It seems ole Phil was looking for new and exciting ways to prosper during a down market and he started a new phone service called something like 1-800-cal-lmls (I made that up as I cannot remember the exact number).
Well the Westside MLS came down hard with their legal beagles claiming infringement. Except one thing was wrong. The ones owning MLS as a trademark are Major League Soccer. They eventually let Phil do his thing.
Now besides this legal issue of who owns what. The real issue of course is why would an entity that Phil helped support attempt to take away his right to make a living?
The Realty Associations of course have a long history of this type of dumping on the ones who brought them to the dance.
At the dawning of the World Wide Web, NAR made a desperate plea for higher fees to help fund Realtor.com. If the site was not built it was argued then that Microsoft and others would take over the MLS. The site made by NAR for its reason for being was built to much fanfare. It quickly sunk from the notion of protecting the MLS and into a new revenue stream. Thus charging its members to participate in the site built on their behalf.
Ironically, a few years later and now we have Trulia who many in the public might argue is the defacto online MLS.
This whole issue was brought to the forefront of late as a Florida MLS has not only used the traditional means of regulating their members, but many bloggers believe that they have gone so far as to compete with the very people who pay them for help in their business.
This story begins with a Realtor who owned a domain with the word MLS in it, some strong SEO and link juice. And then a Multiple Listings Service who in this authors opinion went to extreme measures to use their power.
Who is the Realtor? Marc Rasmussen of Sarasota, Florida. The URL was TheSarasotaMLS.com, and the Board? None other than the Sarasota MLS.
Archive.org show the url going as far back as Sept 2003. So why now in 2008 would this Association feel that they could impose an ethics violation?
According to RealEstateWebmasters:
Article 12 of the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics".
".. the NAR adopted a new stance on the use of the acronym "MLS" in a Realtor's domain name – basically stipulating that "at their discretion" MLS boards could adopt new policies prohibiting the use of MLS in a Realtor's domain. In my opinion, the NAR did not practice any measure of responsible due diligence before adopting this addition to the COE and it was extremely poorly received by its membership as evidenced by the extreme negative reaction by the Realtor / webmaster community as a whole.."
John Allen a Sarasota Realtor and competitor, defends Marc Rasmussen. He turns the issue on its head when he asks if the Sarasota MLS is going to claim ethical violation for the use of their name in the website The Sarasota MLS.com. Then Allen asks about the SAR owned domain Time2BuySarasota.com:
"No one from SAR ever asked me for permission or if it was ok with me. It was obvious that they were trying to feed off of my unique name and wide brand exposure. They have used it in all of their marketing efforts including print, TV and online. I have used BuySarasota.com in all of my marketing efforts for years. It is MY brand. I even have a Florida Trademark on the term..."
Allen then reports perhaps the most disturbing part of this story:
"..SAR decided to do a 301 permanent redirect from Marc Rasmussen's old domain thesarasotamls.com to their website sarasotarealtors.com. "
A quick lesson in SEO
When a website puts a 301 redirect onto their server, it essentially says,"hey Google, you know everything that was over there (thesarasotamls), well it is now here (sarasotarealtors).
That act would in effect take the value of the website as seen in Google's eyes and other engines, and attached it to the SAR site. Thus Rasmussen's blood and sweat and dollars of the past 5 years went into building the value of SAR and their website.Some 2000+ links and a very aged website is now attached to the SAR site.
And what did SAR have to say in response?
The CEO was quoted in the RealEstateWebmaster comment section "in the best interest of the membership of SAR and of the public that SAR protect its rights in the trademark."
When discussing legal issues all the posturing can prove anyones point. As the law always serves the ones with the most money and lawyers.
My Rant and Personal Opinion
So if we may, lets get back to the world of right and wrong. SAR is paid to support its people. If they thought that Marc owning his URL is wrong then they have had 5 years to have a sit down with him. They didn't need the legal muscle of NAR to make their point.
The skeptic in me feels like they have just discovered SEO and link juice.
Shouldn't Marc at least be paid for his old domains value? Is the 301 just a little sneaky? Why if they wanted the domain so bad for its trademark don't they use it, instead of 301'ing it? And why are they apparently scooping up URLS as John Allen says when they are not in the marketing game? Or are they?
Certainly SAR would be hard pressed to claim they bought Time2BuySarasota.com to protect their trademark. Again who do they represent themeselves or their members?
SAR took a domain that not only had value in a search engine's eyes, but they also took a domain with a revenue stream.
If that is how the Association helps its members and what NAR calls ethics then the industry has a much larger problem than this recession. Because this problem will be the industries ultimate demise. Thats my opinion and I am sticking to it.