Rights against a web hosting company

Is it legal for a website hosting company to access your emails and/or download your websites files from their server?

What, if any, action can I take?

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Alasdair Taylor's Answer

There are at least two areas of law that are engaged here: copyright law and privacy/data protection law.

Depending upon the circumstances, RIPA could also be relevant.

Copying material that is protected by copyright (eg a written work or an image file) without the permission of the copyright owner will often constitute copyright infringement.

Accessing private material of a service user could, depending upon the circumstances, amount to a breach of the right to privacy and/or a breach of data protection legislation.

In each case, the hosting company could likely overcome a legal claim by demonstrating that it had proper permission to copy and use the relevant material in the way that it did use them.

Often, hosting companies will grant themselves broad (contractual) rights in their standard T&Cs to access and use customers’ materials: you should read the relevant T&Cs to see what they say.

Where there are no express rights, there may be implied rights.

Also, some uses of materials and information are expressly permitted by statute.

I can’t answer your specific question without a lot more information, but the answer would likely turn upon the following factors:

  • the nature of the materials and information accessed;
  • the use to which those materials and that information have been put by the hosting company;
  • the scope of any express consents and permission you have given to the hosting company (eg in the T&Cs); and
  • the extent to which relevant consents and permissions may be implied.

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