Image created with Stable Diffusion.

Making the Case for Prioritizing Media Update Standards

Apr 13, 2023 Michael Wurzer

Next week at the RESO Conference in San Antonio, I have a short session right before lunch on Tuesday in which I’ll be, “Making the Case for Prioritizing Media Update Standards.” I hope you’ll be able to join us for that and other sessions. So as not to be a spoiler, I won’t go into the details of my pitch right now but I’ll just say that media is central to the value of MLS compilations and that value proposition is growing and evolving with every new tech development such that now is a great time to be focusing on media management.

In this post, I want to touch on a few topics directly related to media but that I’m unlikely to be able to address fully during my session next week. First, because of the proliferation of photo enhancement services, with and without AI, we’re seeing more MLSs adding fields to their listings to track whether the photos include enhanced or altered photos or not. This is a super important topic and one that I encourage the RESO DD Workgroup to address soon to avoid MLSs implementing these fields in disparate ways.

The provenance of photos is a topic that’s much broader than real estate photos and there’s been a significant effort by Adobe and several other companies to create some standards around this topic. One result of those discussions is the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity, which provides: “An open technical standard providing publishers, creators, and consumers the ability to trace the origin of different types of media.” Adobe and some other companies have published the Content Authenticity Initative, which includes some implementations of the published standards.

Screenshot 2023 04 13 at 5.56.21 PM

Perhaps the easiest way to understand the above effort is to check out this Verify website, which has some examples of images with an interactive “i” in the upper right corner, which, when hovered over, shows the provenance of the image and allows you to click through to see more details. This approach is quite comprehensive and I think it may well be more than RE technology needs but it’s a good example of how seriously the broader technology and media industry is taking issues of provenance. It certainly would be cool to be able to click on any photo coming from an MLS and immediately see the source and edits made to the photo over time.

Though the above standards specifically say they are not intended to address licensing or digital rights management (DRM) issues, I also think that’s an important topic for MLSs to address. We’re seeing more and more MLSs adopt photography networks and I’ve written previously about that and how MLSs can promote standard licensing for media.

Directly related to both provenance and licensing rights is the rapid advance of machine learning in creating, modifying, and extracting data from images. You’ve no doubt seen on the various social channels examples of photos being created by AI imaging tools like Stable Diffusion or Midjourney. These tools are built by pouring millions of images into their ML models and now Getty Images is suing Stability (the creator of Stable Diffusion) for copyright infringement.

As I think about all of these developments, something that stands out for me as a potential opportunity is for the PropTech community to consider working together to create open source models that benefit the industry as a whole. There are efforts already underway to discuss open-source licensing related to ML-specific content such as OpenRAIL and some versions of these efforts could be instructive for real estate. For example, if MLSs are going to license images to third parties to enhance machine learning models, then shouldn’t those models be available to MLSs to use as well?

I certainly have more questions than I do answers but I think now is the time to be digging into these questions so we can lead the industry into the innovations that are as exciting as any I’ve seen in a long time. Those innovations raise awesome possibilities but also novel legal and business considerations. Working together we can find a clear path forward.