Internet Drama: Photobucket’s “ransom demand” leaves internet shops broken

You probably haven’t thought about Photobucket for years – I certainly haven’t, as the picture sharing website got gradually eclipsed by bigger rivals like Flickr, Imgur and even Facebook. But 100 million people have accounts, and plenty of them are active, judging by the kickback the company has had a massive change to its terms and conditions that critics are referring to as “blackmail” and a “ransom demand.”

Internet Drama: Photobucket’s “ransom demand” leaves internet shops broken

The whole fuss kicked off on 26 June when the company updated its terms and conditions. A blog post went up, but it was all of 47 words long and said nothing about the drama about to unfold. New T&Cs – go read, because they might impact you: that’s the gist.

Part of this update involved the ending of hotlinking images from Photobucket for non-paying customers. That means images hosted on the service could no longer be embedded on non-Photobucket sites unless you paid up. Instead, they’d be replaced by this image:photobucket

If you go to the page mentioned in the image, you’ll discover that to regain this previously free feature, you’re looking at an annual payment of $399.99 (~£309.80). There is no option to pay monthly.

On one level, that makes sense. People who use the image embedding are power users – those with their own shops on Amazon marketplace and eBay, for example. The trouble with that is they’re likely to be the most vocal when their shops break and their livelihood is threatened by an unsignposted change to terms of service.

It’s safe to say that Photobucket’s support department is having a wonderful time of it at the moment.

Worse, blogger Lauren Wayne – a loyal customer who used to actually pay for Photobucket services – discovered that she couldn’t download her own images of the site to upload elsewhere. She was met by a wall of the same image demanding payment: “I’ve written Photobucket customer support. I’ve written them on Facebook. I’ve Tweeted at them. I’ve gotten someone on Facebook to promise a response, and that’s the extent of it so far after three days. Three days of knowing my site archives look a ragged mess, and that I’m missing out on pageviews, subscribers, and revenue while readers take a gander at my posts of black-boxed nightmares.”

This is the kind of thing that really pushes the maxim of “no such thing as bad publicity” to the limit. To be clear, I’m not the kind of person that objects to anything paid for on the internet – I understand these services cost money, and Photobucket isn’t a charity. But suddenly charging hundreds of pounds without warning for a service that was free last month is not the way to do it. No grace period and no option to pay on a monthly basis means that the company really does deserve the opprobrium being poured on them at this point.

Photobucket exiles, I’m just going to leave this link to Imgur here. They allow hotlinking, and their Pro features became free to all users two years ago.

Update: The original publication of this article included Etsy amongst the sites affected by the Photobucket T&C change. An Etsy spokesperson has confirmed that this is not the case: “Etsy serves images via internally hosted web servers and cloud based hosting, such as Amazon S3. Photobucket’s recent changes do not directly impact how Etsy is displayed to our visitors, as no images when visiting are served via their service.”

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