Hotlinking and Bandwidth Theft - What is it?
Are you a hotlinker?
Ok, so you may be new to the web or even web design in general and want to create your own space online...
You see an image you'd love to add to your website, you:
1. Download it to your hard drive and upload it to your own server (after checking that is is allowed to be used)... or,
2. Add it to your page without uploading it to your website.
If you chose #1, congratulations, you've already decided to not hotlink! If you chose number 2... please read why this is theft.
Hotlinking - What is it?
Hotlinking, inline linking, remote linking and many other terms are used to describe a way taking images, or other files and embedding it directly into a website. In other words, unauthorized use of someone else's bandwidth. Hotlinked files are files Not stored on your own server. For example, a hotlinked image code would look something like this:
OK, so why is Hotlinking wrong?
If the person who owns the media file you are embedding into your own website gives permission to hotlink, then nothing is wrong. Sadly, this is not usually the case.
If you don't have permission, remote linking to any media and / or program file is theft.
Yes, theft.. even if it's a clipart archive offering free images, a music server giving away free tunes or a website with freeware... Unless the original website specifically states otherwise, hotlinking is stealing.
"Wait a minute" I hear you say, "I didn't steal anything, the file is right where the owner left it!" OK, let me explain this a bit. Each time a file is called from our servers we have what is called a data transfer request, or another way of saying it.. we have bandwidth used.
Bandwidth is a bit like gas for a car. Every time you drive (or a file is loaded), a bit of fuel (or bandwidth) is used up. Now imagine if each night one of your neighbors siphoned out a tiny bit for their own car... then other neighbors thought "I'll just take a couple drops as well"... by morning your fuel tank is empty. Your neighbors each thought taking just a tiny bit would be unnoticeable.. but added all up it left nothing for you.
Serving up images is not only usually our biggest consumer of bandwidth, when others remotely link to them (ie. embed them in their websites from our servers without our permission), we have to pay... bandwidth is not free! Most websites have a limited amount of data transfer and the website owners either have to cough up extra money each month to pay the fees, or face shutting down.
The difference between hotlinking & linking to a web site:
When people link directly to a media file (gif, jpg, png, mov etc.), the webmaster of the original site has to pay the fees. When someone links to a page on that same website, the webmaster still pays fees but the content is shown in the form the designer (and copyright holder) wished, and they may be able to cover costs by displaying advertising on the page.
Super simply put... Hot Linking to media files = bad... Linking to pages = good ;-)
Other reasons you shouldn't hotlink files
Eventually every website owner that faces this dilemma has to make a decision. Close up shop... or fight back? Since their files would now be embedded into your website, they are free to do with those files as they wish... and most will.
Some things webmasters can do to hotlinkers:
1. Rename the file and give the hotlinker a broken file.
2. Replace it with a very nasty file (think of whatever you'd most dislike seeing on your page and I can guarantee the website owner with the original content can imagine something ten times worse.)
3. Replace it with a notice that hotlinking is not allowed and an advertisement for their own website.
4. Contact the hotlinker's website host and submit a copyright / terms of service abuse report. In most cases this will result in the hotlinker losing their website.
So by now you (should) realize why hotlinking is wrong, but what if your web site host doesn't allow images stored? That's an easy one!
Either find a better host, (here are free subdomain hosts and a list of free domain hosts) that will allow image uploading.
Option number 2, keep your current host and use a free image host that allows hotlinking.
Can't save files?
If for some reason you can't save a file, or perhaps not on your own computer and find an image that you want, there's the Transload Service that will upload it for you, or you could always email yourself the file for later use.
Oh, and please, before you take any file whether it's an image, sound file or anything else.. check that it is allowed to be used elsewhere. Just because something is on a website does not mean that anyone is free to take it! There are copyright laws online as well.
Thank-you for taking the time to learn about hotlinking
If you didn't understand what hotlinking or remote linking files before was, a big thank you for reading this! My hope is that by reading through this, learning why hotlinking is theft and how to avoid it.. there will be more responsible linkers in the future.
Please help keep the free clipart collections and sound files that are freely offered online, and available for free for future users. Do your part by linking properly and explaining it to other people you might know that hotlink simply because they don't know any better.