Website Hosting and the Copyright of Web Content

by Barb Cashman on November 29, 2011

This is a response to the comment last week by Jason about Bluehost, the WordPress recommended hosting site. His comment, to Want a Website for $200 or Less? Follow Solo in Colo’s WordPress Website Project, was:

Great project. When you get to your “hosting” section, could you address the copyright protection of content? Specifically, below is an example of part of a hosting service’s contract. Please note towards the bottom where it says that a license is granted to all end-users (ie visitors) as follows:
“Subscriber also authorizes the downloading and printing of such material, or any portion thereof, by end-users for their personal use.” The full paragraph is reproduced below. I get the sense that this is standard for any web-hosting site, but I am not sure. Bluehost is recommended by WordPress.
Thanks for doing this!

License to Bluehost.com. Bluehost.com claims no ownership interest in the content of Subscriber’s web site(s). By submitting content and data to Bluehost.com, Subscriber grants to Bluehost.com, its successors and assigns, the worldwide, royalty-free, and nonexclusive license under Subscriber’s copyrights and other rights, if any, in all material and content displayed in Subscriber’s web site to use, distribute, display, reproduce, and create derivative works from such material in any and all media, in order to maintain such content on Bluehost.com’s servers during the term of these Terms. Subscriber also authorizes the downloading and printing of such material, or any portion thereof, by end-users for their personal use. This license shall terminate upon Subscriber’s cancellation of the Services as set forth in Paragraphs 2.01 and 3.0.

Due to the thoroughness of the response, I am responding in a post. Also, I can’t claim ANY credit for the very succinct and insightful analysis offered. Nope, I went straight to the Solo and Small Firm listserv’s IP maven, Brenda Speer, and asked her to comment, which she graciously did. Here is Brenda’s response:

The terms of use of each site will govern the disposition of the content. Under U.S. copyright law, copyrights in content (such as blog text and accompanying graphics) arise at the moment of creation and vest in/are owned by the creator.

Copyrights are a bundle of rights that include the exclusive rights of the owner to reproduce the content (post the content on the Web), distribute the content (make it available to others, such as posting on the Web), publicly display or publicly perform the content, as applicable (again, on the Web), and prepare derivative works (transformation of the original content into another work, such as a translation or print to audio or print to digital). Each of these rights can be owned by the owner, transferred (no retention of rights), or licensed (permission grant, but rights ownership retained) by the owner to another.

Bluehost is saying that the creator/poster of his original content retains ownership in the copyrights, but grants to Bluehost the right to reproduce, distribute, and make derivative works of the content, so long as the creator avails itself of Bluehost’s services. This license grant is necessary, otherwise Bluehost doesn’t have the legal right to make the content available to others for reading. The license also includes limited sublicense rights to readers of the content to download and print it for their own personal use. If a visitor did more than this with the content, such as reposting it on his site without permission, then it would be copyright infringement. There is no transfer of ownership whatsoever and the license rights to Bluehost are non-exclusive, meaning the poster could post the same content in another venue.

And yes, these would be standard terms at any site, otherwise, the site wouldn’t be able to post the content. If you wrote an article and submitted it to a print magazine, the magazine would need these same license rights to print magazines and sell them with the published article in it.

[I added a query to Brenda about a question someone asked at the CLE I presented on Blogging on Oct. 10. . . ] I don’t know about the truth of the Google horror story, but it’s a cautionary tale as to why it’s important to read the terms of use and understand what rights you are granting by posting. As a bit of a jaded IP attorney, I would suspect that there was something else going on from a legal perspective that caused the ‘loss’ of the content to Google.

As with anything posted on the Internet, it is very easy to snag and reproduce third party content without authorization. Just because it’s easy to steal on the Web, doesn’t excuse the copyright infringement offense. So, a poster’s options are to either be paranoid and not share at all, to accept that there will always be loss via unauthorized use (like building shoplifting loss into a store’s overhead), or to try to lock everything down with DRM (digital rights management to prevent reproduction), which isn’t practical for blog content. Bloggers might want to consider posting a pertinent Creative Commons license with their content (a grassroots movement re: permission rights stated upfront), if they are so inclined.

See my article, Blah, Blah, Blog, on my website  for more information about blogging.

Follow the WordPress Website Project and see other posts here.

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