Once in a blue moon, we receive a Notice from various government or private authorities about alleged infringement of Copyrights and other intellectual property which maybe purposefully or mistakenly hosted on our servers or network. A web hosting provider plays a very limited yet an extremely important role in upholding intellectual property rights and maintaining a balance with freedom of speech. This article deals with the role of a web host in acting upon a copyright infringement complaint and what recourse they may seek in resolving the issue.
The first step that a hosting provider usually takes is to contact the client against whom the complaint has been received and ask him to submit a reply on why his account should not be limited or suspended for hosting infringing content. Based on the client’s reply the host may either forward the reply, or may ask for further information. Service providers need to insulate themselves from being caught in the cross fire or being caught in between infringers and authorities.
When there is a serious threat of fraud or major financial loss, a service provider may suspend the account or stop all services, pending the investigation or reply from the client. This is to mitigate the risk of the consequences that the possible infringing content may have on their business or to the world at large. Incidents where the copyright violation results in phishing or spoofing scams or in cheating or impersonation, then there is a large responsibility on the hosting company to ensure that there is immediate cessation of the account. Account suspension means that the account becomes inaccessible and is in a frozen state but the files continue to reside on the hosting server. This maybe useful for future investigation or probes into any crime or infringement.
If the web host feels that the data is an immediate threat or is uncontrollable, the content maybe deleted or removed permanently from the hosting account. The hosting account will be terminated and all files removed completely, so that there is no possibility of further damage. In case of such an action most web hosts will refuse to provide a refund for the unused term of service and the client will have to forfeit the amount. The terms of the company are usually pretty clear about such cases and what action the web host will take in case of violation of the TOS.
Besides taking direct action against an infringer, a hosting provider can also provide valuable evidence and data to investigating authorities. This can be particularly useful in matters related to fraud or crime.
Although a service provider can take a lot of proactive action and prevent the infringing information from travelling further, web hosts cannot assume the role of judges and act against a client without proper justification. While there are no laws or precedents for web hosts to deal with such matters, there is no doubt that they may have to use their discretion and may also have to take legal opinions before taking drastic steps. As an intermediary, service providers are protected by conduit laws to insulate them from litigation in case of cyber crimes or tortuous acts of their clients.