We're using Wix as an example, but you could substitute a number of other big name Free website advertisers, like Web.com for a lot of this information. Where there's an important difference we'll include that as well.
We chose Wix because a client of ours was considering using their free service for a new website and wanted to know the true meaning of "Free"? For a little background this particular client is involved in writing and performing music.
In section 2.2 subsection 5 it gets more interesting. Here you agree to: "allow Wix to use in perpetuity, worldwide and free of charge, any version of your User Website (or any part thereof) for any of Wix's marketing and promotional activities, online and/or offline, and modify it as reasonably required for such purposes, and you waive any claims against Wix or anyone on it's behalf relating to any past, present or future moral rights, artists' rights, or any other similar rights worldwide that you may have in or to your User Website..." Ouch, well that explains where a portion of the "Free" goes; if Wix likes your website or how you put your content together they have the right to use it and your content for marketing and other promotional purposes. Harvard Law School has a section on Art Law that covers Artists's Rights and Moral Rights. The gist of the artists's rights is the law provides artists certain protection of their creations (intellectual property) whether the interest is economic, non-economic or personality rights. Moral rights include the right of attribution, the right to correct or withdraw a work previously disclosed to the public, and the right of respect of the work.
It is interesting that Wix has chosen to call out these specific rights for users to waive. Those creating and selling unique works would unlikely intentionally waive their intellectual property rights or their right of attribution.
Web.com has a similar paragraph, although they do not call for the user to waive their artists' or moral rights and it is not in perpetuity, at least not for it's general hosting packages. From Web.com, "You expressly grant to Web.com a non-exclusive, worldwide and royalty-free license to copy, display, use and transmit on and via the Internet the content that is submitted, stored, distributed or disseminated by you via the Hosting Services, including without limitation, trade or service marks, test, images, photographs, illustrations, graphics, audio clips, video clips, email or other messages...and revocable only upon termination of Hosting Services."
In section 2.3 you now find Wix's protection of their intellectual property, which they are obviously a lot more interested in protecting than yours, "You agree and undertake not to copy, modify, create derivative works of, download, adapt, reverse engineer, emulate, migrate to another service, translate, compile, decompile or disassemble the Wix Services (or any part thereof), any Content offered by Wix or Third Party Services for use and display within User Websites..." The important part here, is lets say you decide you like your website, but would like to work with a local website hosting provider, or perhaps the fees have grown too high with your once "Free" website and want to move it, per this section you have agreed not to "migrate to another service" or "copy" these services. In a nut shell you don't own your website and you may not own your domain name either. The www.yourcompany.com may actually be owned by the site builder company. Wix appears to have you purchase your domain name, while Web.com in part states, "Customer acknowledges and agrees that Web.com and/or an entity designated by Web.com will retain rights to the Domain Name, unless Customer had provided the Domain Name themselves for use with the Services."
Lastly in section 3.1 entitled Your Intellectual Property (this title is particularly funny or scary once you read the paragraph), you find that while you naturally own your intellectual property that's not very comforting as you are granting Wix a license to use your content (intellectual property) from now until perpetuity. "As between Wix and you, you shall own all intellectual property pertaining to your User Content, including to any designs, animations, videos, audio files, fonts, logos, illustrations, compositions, artworks, interfaces, text, literary works and any other materials created by you. You hereby grant Wix a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, transferable and sublicensable right and license to use your User Content (in whole or in part) worldwide in order to provide you with the Wix Services..."
So what's the cost of this "Free" website?
- Your hard work and a part of the brand you've built up is lost if you ever want to move your website.
- Depending on how you signed up the loss of your domain name will cause you to lose all the work you've put into your online recognition, SEO, SEM, etc.
- A customer who goes to www.yourcompany.com and finds a splash page for Web.com instead of your website, might think you've gone out of business instead of just moved your site and therefore had to change your domain name.
- You grant others rights to your own unique content and brand.
- Those creating one of a kind works of art, music or fashion give up their artists' and moral rights.
- This licensing specifically includes third parties, through sub-licensing, so you never know where you could find your content which you have also agreed to allow to be modified to serve their particular needs.
While "Free" may seem like the easiest way to get a website, it's a far cry from actually being "Free" and in the long run could be far more costly than paying for a website.
When it comes to a website and protecting your brand and intellectual property there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First and foremost pay to own your domain name and make sure it's properly in your name. See our article about Best Practices When Registering a Domain Name for more info. Second if you want to use a site builder that's great, but avoid "Free" as it's clearly not, use a local provider like us, Top Speed Internet Service,who provides a wide variety of themes to use in a site builder, but has no desire to keep you hostage by owning your content, nor requiring rights to your intellectual property for our marketing. If you decide you'd like to have someone build your website, shop around, talk to a few designers and see who best understands your needs and desired outcomes for your website.