Photobucket’s ToS change puts a $400 wall around its garden

Online image hosting service Photobucket has been a favorite of Amazon, eBay and Etsy sellers (among others) for hosting pictures of their wares on display. Now, websites all over the internet are filled with placeholder images advertising an upgrade to Photobucket's Plus 500 plan ever since the company made an abrupt change in its terms of use. Some of the Photobucket's users are now accusing the company of blackmailing them for their own content.

For years, Photobucket allowed users of its free accounts to embed images in third-party websites. The free service level included 2 GB of image storage, and $100 per year bought a user 102 GB of space. The company announced in a June 26 blog post that it would be doing some changes, but the announcement didn't highlight the details present in the service's new Terms of Service page, namely this paragraph:

The free account does not allow any image linking or 3rd party image hosting. If a free account Member exceeds their Content Limit, their account will be immediately suspended and they will need to become a “Paying Member” (defined below) in order to continue accessing their account. You can upgrade to a Plus account at any time.

Former Free plan users are now required to pay $400 per year for a "Plus 500" account that includes 500 GB of space and is the only service tier that allows for embedding images links on outside websites. Users are now complaining that Photobucket will not allow any access to the stored images until the $400 fee is paid, and are throwing around words like "extortion," "blackmail," and "ransom" in comments about the sudden change in the company's terms. If you spot any speed meter-shaped holes in your daily web browsing, now you know what's up—or down, in this case.

Comments closed
    • GrimDanfango
    • 2 years ago

    Other obligatory XKCD:
    [url<]https://xkcd.com/1150/[/url<] I always wonder why people who aren't paying customers expect customer protection laws to apply.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 2 years ago

    I used photo bucket to put photos up for a old business of mine on some forums we sold on. Was great till they started reneging their ToS. They had a nice little corner of the internet all to themselves cause forums everywhere preferred them. So much for a viable business.

      • frenchy2k1
      • 2 years ago

      They were pretty much the only free image hosting allowing hot-linking, as everybody else understood that there was no money and huge costs there.

    • USAFTW
    • 2 years ago

    So now I can’t even ToS my pics in the ‘bucket without shelling out $400? At that price, I’ll make my own bucket.

    • firewired
    • 2 years ago

    If people think this is serious, just wait for the so-called ‘cloud’ providers to change their ToS policies for business data.

    People seem to think they are saving money and storage while the maintenance costs are their service providers’ problems.

    Well, news flash folks, that only works until those providers need to make more money (it’s capitalism, after all), and when that time comes everyone will wish they managed their own data from the outset because getting it back into your possession before your provider either removes it or goes out of business will be both painful and time-consuming.

    Sure, it may mean the service provider’s end of business if people will not pay. But the pain for the customer is still pain that could have been avoided with a bit of self discipline.

    Store your data yourself. Deal. With. It.

      • frenchy2k1
      • 2 years ago

      This is what contracts are about.
      Read them, understand them, force their application.

      For any “free” hosting, you have very little leverage, but if you pay for your data, you should be fine…

    • ronch
    • 2 years ago

    They just shot themselves in the foot.

    RIP, Photobucket.

    • SuperSpy
    • 2 years ago

    Photobucket has always seemed shady to me, and this just reinforces it.

    Extra sketchy when you consider you can get an entire VPS for $5/mo with 1TB monthly bandwidth.

      • just brew it!
      • 2 years ago

      Those $5 VPS deals don’t come with gobs of storage. But unless you’re hosting videos, they’re generally adequate.

      • meerkt
      • 2 years ago

      What are some such VPS providers?

        • frenchy2k1
        • 2 years ago

        here is an example:
        [url<]https://www.online.net/en/hosting/online-perso[/url<] 2 euros/month, 150GB storage and "unlimited" traffic. For regular photo hosting, it should be fine.

          • meerkt
          • 2 years ago

          That’s not VPS. And worse, 100MB limit on database size. (And are those “Gb” byte or bit? :))

          This seems to be their VPS stuff, though “cloud” makes it unclear:
          [url<]https://www.online.net/en/dedicated-cloud[/url<]

            • Flying Fox
            • 2 years ago

            If it is just for hosting pictures, 150GB should be quite a good size? Do you need more than 100MB database to manage the pictures, or you want to store them as database blobs?

            • meerkt
            • 2 years ago

            Not for photos. I was curious about $5 VPSes.

            I might be fine with shared hosting as well, as long as there’s enough database space; the few large webhosts I’ve checked appear to have a cramped limit of 1GB for that (that’s the small print for “unlimited number of databases”).

            • just brew it!
            • 2 years ago

            Just get a $5 Linode, install Ubuntu Server or Debian, and call it a day.

        • SuperSpy
        • 2 years ago

        Linode for one, I’m sure there are more.

        Linodes base plan is $5/mo for a single core, 1GB of RAM, 20 GB of SSD storage, and 1TB of outbound data (inbound isn’t metered) at 1GBit. Double everything for the next highest plan.

    • Sahrin
    • 2 years ago

    Doesn’t every paid service already work this way?

    The shady thing seems to be moving free-hosted content behind a paywall after hitting a data limit. I kind of understand PB’s point, though, if a person is hosting GB of content and has gone over their limit, letting them then download that content for free is just making the problem worse.

    Yet another reminder, I suppose, to make sure you are compliant with the terms of the contracts you sign.

      • shank15217
      • 2 years ago

      The issue is that they suddenly changed their terms of service without any grace period, that’s not ok. They are holding user data ransom, grace periods should be standard. Its time that laws started catching up to the reality of cloud storage services.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 2 years ago

    Ransomware has hit the cloud. Yuck.

    • kamikaziechameleon
    • 2 years ago

    The locking of accounts resulting from the shift in terms of service is very ghetto. They up an Deebo’d their user base.

    As an online storage solution locking up stuff your users were storing is not going to earn you any more loyal customers.

    I mean is this bad, yeah. But really the shame will come from the exodus of users from their service. fool me once, shame on you…

    EDIT: as others have observed, the pricing here is very suspicious. Given the services of flickr and amazon this seems like business suicide! Quite literally modeled after a ransom ware attack as there is not going to be much in the way of a viable business model on the other side of this move.

    • fyo
    • 2 years ago

    $400 per year? Pay now to access your existing data? => RANSOMWARE

    This smells of a scam. It really does. Maybe they suddenly found themselves in a hole financially and needed to drum up some cash RIGHT NOW. Holding their users data hostage until payment is received… wow, that’s a pretty surprising move. Imagine if Google did that with one of their products.

    The pricing alone is a huge indicator that something is wrong. No one is going to pay this going forward, only people desperate enough to get access to their data.

    ISP transit costs are well below a cent per gigabyte and your can buy hosting at not much more than that. Amazon S3 bandwidth costs are just over 2 cents per gigabyte for the standard tier (lower for “infrequent access”, which would be a better choice for backups, and even less for the “glacial” tier).

    So $400 a year could buy you over 15 TB of transfers.

    • Chrispy_
    • 2 years ago

    What’s a decent free imagehost these days?
    I tend to use imgur but for larger scale stuff I just dump it on my externally-facing server

      • brucethemoose
      • 2 years ago

      Cubeupload

      Unlike Imgur, it doesn’t recompress anything.

    • Major-Failure
    • 2 years ago

    A total bitch move, no doubt, but when a company starts out offering a core service for free, there will always be drama if it goes away. Solution: charge folks right from the beginning and don’t try to lure them in with “free.”

      • fyo
      • 2 years ago

      The drama isn’t about the free service going away, it’s about requiring a $400 payment for existing users to access their accounts. This a CLEARLY an attempt at extortion (although perhaps not in the legal sense, IANAL) to force any sorry users without backups / originals to pony up some cash.

      Longer term, NO ONE is going to pay $400 a year for hosting images on photobucket.

        • shank15217
        • 2 years ago

        It could be, they gave no prior notice of the change of their ToS, I am sure there is a legal issue here.

          • VincentHanna
          • 2 years ago

          Thing is, technically anything uploaded to their site is considered their property. They are a service provider. Cutting off your access to their photos (legally) and putting them behind a paywall probably shouldn’t cause you any (financial/legal) harm. And if it does, in light of them being an online repository / back-end for snapfish, the harm probably stems from their withdrawing a service that they never officially intended to offer.

          In theory, if you were to sue, they might even countersue you for the bandwidth you used.

            • frenchy2k1
            • 2 years ago

            No, to let them host, you gave them an unlimited license (this is literally required for them hosting and thus distributing the image), but the copyright is still yours.

            They would have no ground to sue, as you used their service (and bandwidth) under their own ToS, legally.
            However, you could have ground to sue for damage in loss of your pictures, even though they would probably hide behind their ToS, that most probably include a close of “at will change” for their free service.

            Note that word around the web is that access and service are maintained for previously paying customers, as those would have a contractual claim.

            • VincentHanna
            • 2 years ago

            I’m pretty sure that Facebook has argued that point in court before. However, this isn’t a copyright case, so whether Photobucket has technical ownership of the copyright is irrelevant.

            They would argue that you violated their ToS by using their service for commercial applications. Just because you append the word “legally” to that statement doesn’t make it enforceable, legally.

            Yes. I’m quite sure they would “hide” behind their ToS… however, in a more broad legal context, your argument still fails. You are not the OWNER of the property being hosted on their servers, and they haven’t violated copyright, so you don’t have a copyright claim, either.

            All customers have a contract, not just paying ones… However, the paying ones obviously can’t be in violation of their contract for misusing the free-tier consumer level service, as they aren’t subscribed to that tier.

    • brucethemoose
    • 2 years ago

    So, why would anyone ever upload anything to photobucket when there are dozens of other free or dirt cheap sites?

    Its nothing more than an extortion racket with a paper thin veil. It’d be like MySpace closing down and charging $400 to access old accounts.

    • NovusBogus
    • 2 years ago

    I agree with the “it’s their server, this is why you never trust the cloud” line of thinking, but I do have to wonder what Photobucket is smoking to come up with that kind of pricing plan. $5 a month gets you virtually unlimited web hosting and usually a URL registration thrown in for good measure. Double that and we’re getting into VPS territory. Heck, I think you can get a dedicated machine from Rackspace for not much more than $400/year.

      • Redocbew
      • 2 years ago

      It’s still bonkers even if you ignore pricing altogether.

      Hey guize, let’s change our terms so lots of people have to pay us more money, and let’s make it really hard for them to upgrade their accounts. That way they’ll remember how hard it was the next time we change it, because of course they won’t leave. It’s not like image hosting is something they can do just anywhere.

      • moose17145
      • 2 years ago

      I was thinking the EXACT same thing…

      “I am going to upload all my stuff to the cloud! That way it is safe, backed up, and I can access it anywhere whenever I want as long as I have internet access! Oh Oh! And the best part is I can free up a ton of hard drive space by being able to delete all my local copies as well! How can I lose!?!” *sarcasm*

      I bet there are going to be a few people who are going to spending the 400 just to retrieve their pictures now who had wished they just sucked it up and spent the 100 bucks on an external hard drive and kept local copies / backups instead now.

      Beyond just the security risks associated with dumping all your stuff into “the cloud”, and the fact that typically per most website’s terms of service allowing them to do anything they want with whatever you upload, this is just yet another example of why I upload next to nothing to the all mighty cloud. I truly perceive it to be one of the least safe places to put your data.

      The cloud has it’s place, and I have used it before several times myself. Good examples were school group projects where we placed them on someones google drive (or similar competing service) so that we could easily collaborate and stuff. For cases like that, it works great! But know the limits of the cloud, know what you are getting into when you do upload stuff, and always keep local backups of the latest copies as best you can (because at any moment it can be taken from you for one reason or another exactly like this article shows).

        • frenchy2k1
        • 2 years ago

        Free accounts had 2GB of storage.
        Paying accounts are pretty much untouched by the change (those customers would have legal rights).
        So, if you had been paying for the safety of cloud storage, you are fine.
        If you were a free loader, you should not be losing much.

          • VincentHanna
          • 2 years ago

          Your rights are determined by the contract you have signed. Monetary compensation does not give you additional rights.

          In this case, the “executive” tier or whatever, offers that service, so those customers aren’t in violation of the TOS, however, in another situation, say, hosing content not approved of by the corporate entity, they could do the same thing (or worse), even to paying customers. You have no “rights” at any tier.

    • dpaus
    • 2 years ago

    Did the original ToS clearly and explicitly say that the user gave Photobucket complete and total ownership of everything that they uploaded without exception? ‘Cause if it didn’t, I see one hell of a class-action copyright lawsuit…

      • Taxythingy
      • 2 years ago

      Well, they are in good form tonight.

      Now, you agree to the ToS, whatever they currently are, every time you use the site. They MAY announce major changes, but good luck!

      You do own your content, but they reserve the right to do anything with it, including commercially licencing it for their profit if you make it public (i.e. use the site).

      Early contract termination fees buried in there, just in case you didn’t know where they stand on these matters.

    • GatoRat
    • 2 years ago

    Who keeps their only copies of images online?

      • moose17145
      • 2 years ago

      As someone who worked for a local Ma & Pa type computer repair shop for a while… you would be absolutely amazed at the way people treat and handle their personal data that they consider “precious”.

      ESPECIALLY their pictures…

      • just brew it!
      • 2 years ago

      Not me. But lots of people, I’m sure. Probably comparable to the number of people who only keep their photos in their phone.

        • drfish
        • 2 years ago

        Which is madness considering how easy it is to setup Android/iOS/Windows to automatically upload/sync photos and videos.

    • just brew it!
    • 2 years ago

    If they really are completely locking people out of their accounts, that’s pretty low, and the “ransom” descriptor isn’t far off the mark.

    And I agree with ludi — if you rely entirely on someone else to store your data for you, you’re not in control of your data any more.

    • Krogoth
    • 2 years ago

    Photobucket is dying. This is one last attempt on making a quick buck before closing shop.

    • albundy
    • 2 years ago

    thats fine with me. there are plenty of other hosters that just replaced them.

    • kvndoom
    • 2 years ago

    If the cloud is the future, I’ll happily remain stuck in the past.

      • just brew it!
      • 2 years ago

      The future is already here.

      • Philldoe
      • 2 years ago

      The future is the past. But with more ads.

        • BIF
        • 2 years ago

        No, with stupider ads.

    • f0d
    • 2 years ago

    imageshack did a similar thing years ago

    • meerkt
    • 2 years ago

    Photobucket always sucked. Embedded images never showed for me. Even viewing images directly on their site barely worked, due to bad Javascript overload.

    Maybe this will push people to better things, like Imgur (which sadly has been on a slight usability/features decline in recent times).

      • Redocbew
      • 2 years ago

      Someone’s probably thinking they can make Photobucket join the ranks of Dropbox/Google Drive/AWS S3 type services.

      Yeah, this is maybe not the best place to start with that.

      • Voldenuit
      • 2 years ago

      Much as I love imgur, this is the first thing that popped into my head:

      [url<]http://imgur.com/ib4u9bR[/url<]

    • ludi
    • 2 years ago

    Obligatory “There is no cloud, there is only someone else’s computer.”

    Hope these users had local backups.

      • Wirko
      • 2 years ago

      There is no free lunch, your photos have just been accepted as a means of payment.

      • dyrdak
      • 2 years ago

      TBH, it’s not like anyone has lost their pics. The issue is that PB will no longer let those pics to be embedded across 3rd party websites (seems like ebay did not offer that service for free to its own sellers either). While not all such use was for profit (to picture owners), it was definitely not PB’s intention to foot the bill for bandwidth their site could see no traffic from. I bet that PB users can still embed links to their galleries (obviously less convenient than just to embed a photo). If I recall correctly, MS has similar restriction in their ToS for OneDrive.
      I’m no cloud service shill myself, have no PB account or investment and use (very limited) forum specific storage space when uploading/sharing my photos (the few I bothered participating in).

        • ludi
        • 2 years ago

        Read it again — the issue is that Photobucket is allegedly requiring ALL users who broke this previously-unenforced ToS item to pay $400 or have no access to their account, at all.

        That’s pretty draconian.

          • Taxythingy
          • 2 years ago

          Might not be $400 to access & use the account. According to their ToS:

          < 52 GB = $60
          < 102 GB = $100
          < 500 GB = $400

          But yeah, $400 for 3rd party linking regardless of content size.

            • Redocbew
            • 2 years ago

            Without the account lockout I doubt it’d be a big deal. The likes of Amazon and eBay aren’t likely to flinch about an extra $400, but being locked out completely until they upgrade isn’t going to sit well with anyone.

      • just brew it!
      • 2 years ago

      Obligatory XKCD link: [url<]https://xkcd.com/908/[/url<]

    • Redocbew
    • 2 years ago

    Cat in bucket is not amused.

    • DPete27
    • 2 years ago

    Shady.

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