Does Using a Web Host Mean that My Files Belong to Them?

Are my website files now owned and controlled by the web host?

Does Using a Web Host Mean that My Files Belong to Them?

by Christopher Heng,

One of my visitors, who was planning to start a website, asked me if using a web host meant that her web host now owned the files she placed on the site. She was worried about "another business controlling and owning" those documents, pages and other files.


For those who aren't sure what a web host is, it is the company that owns the computers (called "web servers") on which you place your website pages. Files placed on those servers are accessible on the Internet. For example, (the site you are reading at this very moment) is placed on one such web host. There are many web hosting companies around, and all of them allow you to set up a website on them.

Copyright Ownership and Licence to Display

As far as I know, none of the commercial web hosts that I have used force you to assign them your copyright when you place your files on their server (ie, computer). So where ownership is concerned, you remain the copyright holder.

In my layman's understanding (note, though, that I am not a lawyer), however, you are implicitly or explicity giving them a licence ("license" if you use a different variant of English) to display your web pages on the Internet on your behalf, for as long as you place your files on their server and remain a customer. That, of course, is the whole point of having a website: you want it online for others to view it. And the web host can't do what you paid them to do, that is, to display it for you, if you don't give them the appropriate licence.

But a licence to display your site does not imply that your files belong to them. It's similar to renting shop premises in the brick and mortar world, where the goods in the shop do not belong to the landlord from whom you leased the property. The implicit licence is also limited to the display of your website under your domain's web address (or whatever address you signed up for). And it terminates when you either delete the files on the server, or when you end your business relationship with them, whichever is sooner. (Once again, this is my layman's understanding of the matter, and it is also the normal expectation of customers when they enter into a business relationship/contract with web hosts.)

Having said that, I vaguely remember that, in the past, some Internet service (I can't remember if it's a social media site or a free web host or something else) actually changed their Terms of Service to say that using their facilities means that you give them a perpetual licence to use your content in any way they want. Predictably, that resulted in a backlash from their users, resulting in people moving off the service, calls for a boycott and lots of negative publicity. (Sorry, I can't remember the outcome, but I suspect they reverted the terms to more standard ones.)

I guess the lesson is to always read the Terms of Service of any web host before you sign up. But you should be doing that with everything that you sign up for, anyway, so this is hopefully no different from what you are used to doing. Read the terms, and if you don't agree with anything stated there, don't sign up for it. The terms should never give the web host more rights than they need, nor rights that extend beyond the duration for which you use their service or place your files and/or site on their service. You can always go to a different web host if you find the terms even remotely problematic. There are so many of them. It's fine if a web host doesn't mention anything about giving them a licence to display your site, since that is implied. (How else are they going to host your site?)

Copyright © 2019-2020 Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
Get more free tips and articles like this, on web design, promotion, revenue and scripting, from

thesitewizard™ News Feed (RSS Site Feed)  Subscribe to newsfeed

Do you find this article useful? You can learn of new articles and scripts that are published on by subscribing to the RSS feed. Simply point your RSS feed reader or a browser that supports RSS feeds at You can read more about how to subscribe to RSS site feeds from my RSS FAQ.

Please Do Not Reprint This Article

This article is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce or distribute this article in whole or part, in any form.

Related Articles

New Articles

Popular Articles

How to Link to This Page

It will appear on your page as:

Does Using a Web Host Mean that My Files Belong to Them?

Link to Us
No Spam Policy
Privacy Policy
Site Map

Getting Started
Web Design
Search Engines
Revenue Making
Web Hosting
Perl / CGI
.htaccess / Apache


Free webmasters and programmers resources, scripts and tutorials Free How-To Guides
Site Design Tips at
Find this site useful?
Please link to us.