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Should Web Hosts Be Liable for User-Uploaded Content?

As the owner of a web hosting company, you want to do all you can to stay protected and away from legal issues relating from the hosting of unauthorized files. For those who are unaware of the legal issues, let’s talk about what it all comes down to. The online community is vast and millions of users are looking for a way to download copyright files such as movies, television shows, music and even graphics. All these mediums have respective owners who hold complete rights to them, and they would certainly not appreciate the fact that it is being shared online for free. According to US federal laws, it is illegal to host or share such copyrighted files.

In many cases, the complaints are routed to the web hosting company that is hosting the content rather than the sole person who uploaded it. The reason is because the people who share the content remain anonymous, while the hosting company is visible due to their public name servers being linked to the domain name in question. DMCA take-down requests are sent directly to the web hosting company and the files are asked to be removed from the server. However, if the issue escalates, it could result in legal issues for the web hosting company.

Hosting companies have only one sole purpose in running their business and that is to provide a service to consumers. The activities that the clients undertake are in no way related to what the hosting company approves of or disapproves of. The one thing the company can do is to work with organizations such as DMCA to protect copyright holders. If you are running a small web hosting company with a dozen or so clients, it would be easy to oversee their activities. However, with a larger company, it really becomes a serious issue.

How can you stay protected and clear of any legal disputes? Take your Terms of Service or Terms of Use agreement to an authorized lawyer and get it approved by his/her board. At the time of getting a new client, make sure to get his/her approval. If the hosting service is being sold online, you should strictly have the client approve the terms of conditions. In the event where you are selling the hosting services in person, you can get a physical signature from your client. Assign consequences for situations where a client of yours may be taking part in illegal activities. Issue suspensions and terminations based on the severity of the case and offer no refund for your hosting clients.

When outside organizations such as MPAA or DMCA notice that you are taking the necessary steps to stay transparent and protected, they will very much take that into consideration. This is one of the riskiest issues that come up in a web hosting company, so taking the right steps to stay safe is crucial.

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