An Ontario court has shut the door on attempts to create new web sites to repackage real estate listings using data from the Multiple Listings Service system.
In a ruling released Monday, Mr. Justice David Brown of the Ontario Superior Court said Toronto real estate broker Fraser Beach did not have the right to provide broad public access to MLS data through a web site he helped create while working for BCE Inc. division Bell New Ventures in 2007.
The decision comes after the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB) shut down several attempts in recent years to create new web sites allowing members of the public to sort MLS data - including an operation started by Mr. Beach.
In the United States, by comparison, a number of popular web sites have been created giving home buyers new ways to sort real estate listings data or providing extra information about a neighbourhood.
TREB chief executive officer Don Richardson said Monday his association is pleased with the court ruling "and feels the integrity of the MLS and the rights of sellers, consumers and brokers have been protected."
In April, 2007, Mr. Beach used his access password as a real estate agent and member of TREB to download large blocks of listings from the TREB MLS website, using it to build a new web site called realestateplus.ca that would allow customers to search MLS data to find potential properties to purchase in Toronto.
While the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA), which owns MLS, provides the public with limited access to the data, Mr. Beach's venture gave customers entry to the full MLS data that currently can only be accessed by real estate agents.
TREB cancelled Mr. Beach's password shortly after the launch of his restestateplus.ca web site. He subsequently sued TREB, arguing he had the right to use the data, and TREB should not have shut him down.
In his decision, Judge Brown said the agreement in place between TREB and its members did not allow Mr. Beach to download large volumes of MLS data and give access to the information to unauthorized users.
He also said his ruling would not deal with the issue of whether the rules for using the MLS database breach or conform with Canadian competition laws - a long-standing debate in Canada that is currently the subject of a review by the federal Competition Bureau.
But lawyer Lawrence Dale, who represented Mr. Beach, said while the case was unrelated to the long-running Competition Bureau review of access to the MLS system, the judge's decision may nonetheless be relevant to that investigation because it establishes that TREB's rules are restrictive.
"Justice Brown's decision has squarely placed the issue at the feet of the Competition Bureau," he said. "In the United States, the government found that these identical rules were anti-competitive and the Department of Justice had them removed."
CREA said last month it would like to resolve the competition issues - which centre around whether sellers wanting to post on the MLS need to be represented by a real estate agent or not - by this Friday. A deal doesn't seem imminent, however, with both sides deferring comment. The Competition Bureau can force changes, but a spokesperson Greg Scott said it would rather come to a negotiated agreement with CREA.
"Our first preference is always a voluntary solution," he said. "We don't have that yet."