Photo hosting site Photobucket recently announced significant changes to its terms and conditions.

Unfortunately, many of the site’s users aren’t too happy with one of the changes.

Photobucket will now charge users up to $399.99 per year if they use the site as a hosting service. In other words, users that upload images to Photobucket, then link those images to third-party websites—for instance, eBay, where Photobucket is reasonably popular with sellers—will face fees.

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Danna Crawford

“This path to a more sustainable business model allows us to develop an even more robust product to meet our customers’ needs,” said Photobucket chief executive John Corpus in a statement.

Previously, this service was free, although it was supported by ads. Corpus maintains that Photobucket couldn’t feasibly operate as an image host, as 75 percent of the company’s costs came from “non-paying users leveraging third-party hosting.”

Many users discovered the change when their photos disappeared.

Message boards, personal websites, and other pages bearing Photobucket links suddenly displayed a message informing users that “3rd Party Hosting has been temporarily disabled.” To some Photobucket users, this seemed like a dirty trick.

“Your changes have RUINED more than a DECADE of blogs!” one Twitter user wrote. “I do not have the $$$ to pay for photo hosting and used your service b/c it was free.”

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Wikihow

“8 years of website updates to 20+ sites all showing your upgrade image unless I give you $400 a year, thanks for this nightmare!” wrote another.

On one Photobucket tweet, a user wrote that they were switching to Imgur, a Photobucket competitor. The Imgur Twitter account quickly jumped in to welcome the disgruntled user.

But for some users, switching to another photo sharing site isn’t enough.

Tens of thousands of websites carry Photobucket pictures, and some older sites are no longer maintained by their owners. The new Photobucket policy may prevent some people from accessing personal photos with sentimental value, so the uproar is understandable.

The debacle is a sobering reminder for anyone who relies solely on cloud storage for photo backup. While services like iCloud and Google Drive are incredibly popular for reliability and ease of use, any service can change its terms suddenly, potentially stranding its users without access to their data.

“@Photobucket is literally holding my pics for a $400 ransom!” wrote one user on Twitter. “Keep ’em!”

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Twitter

Experts recommend backing up all important photographs, regardless of where they’re hosted online.

“While cloud storage is fundamentally safe, local storage is still the way to go if you want to hold onto important data forever,” said Ben Carmitchel of Datarecovery.com, a company that specializes in recovering data from damaged hard drives and other media, in an email to Urbo.

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iStock

“Back up your data in several places, and always keep a local copy on a hard drive, DVD, or flash drive. Check the backup from time to time to make sure it’s intact. That’s crucial even if you’re using a reputable image hosting site or cloud storage service, because you never know when something might change.”