So you might have heard the rumblings this week that Photobucket is holding users' photos ransom after a recent change in their Terms of Service. The long and short of it is that free accounts can no longer embed their images on third party sites. Photobucket's failure to inform users with anything besides the quick blog post linked above has caused an uproar amongst their millions of users; many of whom have relied on the image hosting service for years to provide storage for anything from photos for blog posts to online sale listings on Amazon and eBay.
So yeah, this sucks for people who rely on Photobucket for hosting all of their images for free. People are upset to say the least.
There's plenty to be upset about here: the somewhat ridiculous price Photobucket is charging for their hosting service, the complete lack of communication to users who have relied on the service for years, the fact that migrating to a different service is a huge pain that won't fix all of your links. Take your pick. Some people are even going so far as to call Photobucket's new policy "ransomware" (spoiler alert: it's not) and claiming that the image hosting company's policy change is illegal (second spoiler alert: also not). What everyone should really take away from this is the inherent danger that comes with relying on a free service for anything in your life, let alone for things you need to conduct your business.
I get why people are upset; they feel like their images are THEIR images and, by disabling the links to those images, Photobucket has stolen from them. What people are failing to realize is that you get what you pay for (or in this case, don't pay for). I'm not defending Photobucket, they could have and should have gone about this change in a much more up-front and open manner. They sure as hell should have better pricing (Zenfolio charges like $60/year for unlimited image hosting AND you can make an actual website for example). But they haven't done anything criminal or violated any user agreements that I'm aware of. I'm sure the execs for the site looked at the number of users who used their free service to generate personal revenue and realized that it's pretty crazy for a company to generate revenue for others for free. So they made this change and they did it in a messy way and now their users are freaking out.
Here's the deal, the Internet has numbed us to the idea that things cost money. We get that we have to pay for milk at the grocery store, but the average person gets pretty upset when they have to pay for any sort of online service. I am 100% guilty of always trying to get free shipping when I make a purchase online, even though I know that SOMEONE has to pay that shipping cost. Most people don't want to have to pay to have their blogs or images hosted or their files shared or their physical products sold. We forget that real humans built the things we're using; a real person came up with a way to make it work and wrote the code for it to function and pays for the servers our files are stored on and every month they have bills to pay and a family to feed just like we do.
It's important to note however, that this change isn't just affecting users who sell things on eBay or host images for blogs. Millions of Photobuckets users use the service to share images in online forums and other venues, and very few of those users are generating income from their usage. Whole forums have been built around using Photobucket as a host and have now lost access to years and years of images unless they pay the new usage fee.
Many of the users on at stampboards.com had already paid for an annual Photobucket Pro membership to remove ads from their images and give them increased storage, and now they're being faced with an additional fee if they want to share those images with others.
Here's a challenge: sit down and make a list of all the tech-based services you use, and see which ones cost you money. Do you pay for Dropbox or Google Drive? Your email address? Your website? Are there things for your business that depend on free services? Once you've made that list, consider how many of those you pay for. Of the services that you use free of charge, how many would you be deeply affected by if the service suddenly went away or started charging? How big of a deal would it be for you to change to a different service? How many of ANY of your services have you actually taken the time to read the Terms of Services for?
Paying for a service isn't a complete protection against something like this, companies can still make changes to their services, pricing, billing methods, etc., but being a paying user does tend to provide more security against changes like this and more leverage should a provider ever breach their own Terms in the service they provide. Business owners in particular should be wary about relying on free services in the running of their businesses. Being frugal is important, but not at the expense (pun!) of the continued existence of your business.
I'm very curious to hear our readers' thoughts on the Photobucket situation and the idea of free services in general. As photographers, we tend to lose our collective minds whenever a "client" wants us to provide them with services free of charge, yet we can often be guilty of the same attitude in other areas. So who's to blame here? Photobucket? Their users? Everyone?
I would not be surprised if Photobucket comes out with some sort of revision or apology or attempt to soothe their upset users. Their Twitter mentions are blowing up with users who are out of their minds about their images suddenly being unavailable. So far, the only response they've given is this tweet:
Because smilies make everything better, right?