I have a client whose forum was recently taken down due to an inordinate amount of spam. After I sifted through their entire database from the only working backup their hosting provider (Bluehost) provided, I determined that all the posts had been lost.

They told me that they had paid for Bluehost's "pro" backup service to keep the site backed up, but I checked and explained to them that Bluehost's "pro" backup service still doesn't keep more than a month's worth of backups (the only thing their "pro" backup system adds is the ability to restore individual files from the web console).

I have an incidental backup that I made when I was last brought in to clean spam out from their system, and this has most of the missing posts. Due to their negligence in their own backup system, I am the only one who can provide this backup. How should I determine the price to restore their missing data?

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    Do you want to keep them as a customer or not?
    – Jenny D
    Aug 11, 2014 at 8:40
  • Charge them whatever you agreed to charge them when you first took the backup, which sounds like nothing. In which case, charge them for your time only, at most, or risk losing them as a client. It's their property anyways.
    – Jason C
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:02
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    @JasonC he said it was an incidental backup which suggests to me there was never an agreement to provide backup. The client is just lucky he did.
    – emory
    Aug 12, 2014 at 0:29
  • suggest you give the client your backup for free. Then you get paid for organizing an effective backup. You might also want to modify their system (for a price) to greatly help them reject spam posts. Nov 16, 2017 at 21:10

7 Answers 7


Careful. What you're proposing (charging some amount extra simply because you're the only person who possesses a backup) sounds quite close to extortion.

Bear in mind that the data that you have is actually the property of your customer. If you made and retained the backup 'incidentally' without their knowledge or express consent, you likely ran afoul of all sorts of copyright/IP laws, technically speaking. And if you try to force them to pay you to hand over data that technically you should not have in the first place, you can expect those technicalities to become very real problems if your customer is even remotely competent.

So what's the fair price to charge for a backup that only you have that you created and retained without the customer's knowledge and consent? $0.

What's the fair price to charge if you actually did have their consent? Whatever your contract says. Though likely they would have paid you for your time to create the backup, and not for the handing over of the backup data itself.

And what's the fair price to charge for helping them install your backup data (if they ask you to do that for them, which they probably will if you hand the data over for free)? Whatever your normal hourly rate is when doing comparable work.

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    FWIW, he happened to create the backup in question as a routine part of his work. Retaining such a back-up for longer than a short time is a "grey area" and risky if the OP somehow lost control of it but I seriously doubt that the client would be glad to get their lost data back and then decide to sue him because he had it.
    – teego1967
    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:35
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    @teego1967 - The creation of the backup isn't problematic, in and of itself. But transferring it from the customer's host to a host that you exclusively control is generally crossing a line, especially if the customer doesn't know that you're doing so. Doubly so if you then turn around and try to charge a fee for giving your copy back to the customer. I agree they wouldn't sue the OP simply for having the data. But if the OP tried to sell it back to them for $10k (or any amount, really), I imagine the sparks would start to fly.
    – aroth
    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:43
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    I am going to guess that it takes some labor to apply a backup and the client would want the OP to do it. Of course the OP should be paid for the time and materials to apply the backup and he has every right to charge his rate. He should charge his rate even if it means spending 10 minutes to give them a URL and password.
    – teego1967
    Aug 11, 2014 at 12:16
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    @aroth Actually that pretty much depends on the location. For example if the backup contains any kind of private data, he likely ran afoul of the EU data protection directive..
    – Voo
    Aug 11, 2014 at 14:29
  • @teego1967 - Yes, applying the backup is something that the OP can definitely charge for. I say as much in the answer. What he can't charge for is the data itself. If his customer wants someone else to apply the backup, the OP has to (or at least, should) give them the raw data at no charge.
    – aroth
    Aug 11, 2014 at 15:41

Step 1

"I happen to have an old backup lying around that may be of use to you. You can have it to try and restore your database from, but there are no guarantees. Do you want to have it?" It's a service from you, let them handle it from there. You don't charge anything.

Step 2

"If I have to restore it I'll charge you $$ an hour" with $$ the regular hourly rate your charge for anybody. Again, no guarantees that the data are complete after that.
Agreement (on what the task includes and what it costs) in writing before you start.

(Or maybe you prefer to make an estimate of the number of hours it will take and bill them one sum. But if you have e.g. to merge old and new data it could be quite a job and you're better off charging by the hour).


The data does not belong to you, and demanding money for release of the data as such may (ignoring the moral issue) easily be qualified as extortion, with all kinds of civil and criminal unpleasantries - so if you really want to go that way, then ask a lawyer first for your own safety.

That being said, a fair price for the task of you restoring backups will be the same as a fair price of other similarly qualified services you would do for them; I would recommend to charge for X hours of backup recovery the exact same amount as for X hours of spam cleaning.

  • 1
    As you indicate the data is the client's. Charge the normal rate to restore it, otherwise, send them a copy of the backup and allow them to restore it yourself ( speaking to the author ).
    – Ramhound
    Aug 11, 2014 at 11:13

I would say that your consideration should be weighing your desire for continued work from this client. This is not dissimilar to the question of how you deal with a client who asks you to step in and do urgent work (ie, without giving time to properly spec out and bid the work).

You weigh how much you want further work from them, versus how much you want to dissuade them from coming to you in similar situations in the future. If you want to encourage them back, charge them very little - your normal rate for how long it would take to give them (whatever). If you want to discourage them from doing this in the future, you charge a higher, penalty rate. Not with the intent of extorting them - but with the intent of influencing their behavior in the future. As such, it should be an appropriate additional amount based on their ability to pay, so that it is a noticeable hit (if you ask for peanuts, they will just sign off automatically and not change) but not extortionate.

  1. The price for [accidentally] possessing the backup? $0
  2. The price for restoring the backup? Whatever you normally charge. Maybe a bit extra for an "urgent" job.

Just be clear that it is not part of your responsibility to maintain your client's backups unless they are explicitly paying you for that service, and that you took that backup during the course of previous work and it is a matter of sheer luck that it was not deleted when that work was completed. [Note: This can be a double-edged sword in the case that they take issue with you being in possession of their data without their knowledge.]

What you absolutely do not want is for your client to continue to be irresponsible because "Stuart keeps backups anyway".

Now would be a good time to tack on some additional services for your client, like a "Have a peek once in a while to make sure your forum isn't filling up with spam" or "Long-term backups". You would be shocked at how many people so not look at their site more than once in a blue moon and won't notice that it's completely hooped until months after the last clean backup was dropped from the set.


This is an additional service above and beyond your original agreement with the client. There is nothing wrong with charging for extra services beyond what originally agreed to. You are not in violation of any kind of copyright laws or extorting anyone if you charge to provide a copy of data they lost. You bought the hard drive, you spent the time and care to make (and keep) a backup, and they are lucky you did so. It will take you X amount of time to either FTP (on an internet line you pay for), or buy a memory card and ship it out. Bill them by the hour plus expenses (card, shipping etc). I charge $100 to $200 for this, plus expenses. I had a client come to me a year after the shoot and I charged them $300, and they were happy to pay and get the files back after so much time. You are a professional, charge for your professional services, and charge a nominal fee for extra services like this.


Assuming they were willing to pay for backup at their provider and this failed they will be glad to have a backup from you.

Important: You were really just about to delete it, just didn't have the time cause you are so busy. Or you kept it as proof/documentation of the work you did for them. Difficult topic.

I would ask them how much it is worth to them and whatever they offer is a fair price. Nobody sane will say $0.

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