One of my Biggest Pet Peeves: Hotlinking

I hate people who hotlink. For those who aren’t net savvy, hotlinking is a form of bandwidth theft. Wikipedia does a great job of summing this up.

It is possible to use a HTML tag in a webpage to embed material from another site in it. Thus when the webpage is sent to someone to view, the bandwidth for the embedded material is supplied by the owner of the second site. Simply linking to a file is also considered to be bandwidth theft.

This may not be desirable for the owner of the second site: he or she may only be willing to supply the material, with the corresponding bandwidth, if that material is viewed embedded in his or her own webpages, e.g. because otherwise it does not help him earn money which compensates for the bandwidth cost.

This may be considered unfair and even be called “bandwidth theft”. If there are no copyright restrictions, it would be considered fairer if the owner of the first site puts copies of the embedded material on his or her own site. If there are copyright restrictions, the alternative would be to just link to the other site.

For example, Site A hosted by Party 1 puts up a commentary on paintings. In this commentary they would like to post a few images of the paintings discussed. Assume that the paintings are public domain or such use is covered under fair use. Party 1 could host the images (such an option is legally possible), but, instead, Party 1 embeds a tag that causes these images to be downloaded from a server belonging to Party 2. When WebSurfer 1 opens up Site A in his web browser the bandwidth for Site A is provided by Party 1. However, the images are obtained from Party 2. (This practice is sometimes also called hotlinking.)

Some argue that the act of linking cannot be construed as theft since theft requires unauthorized usage. The underlying protocol for web pages requires the requests to be made by the browser. In response, the server will send out the requested object. Since the server has clearly served the request, it may be argued that a case for theft cannot be made, even if the intent was clearly to deprive the owner of rightful use.

The situation is further complicated by the ability to configure servers to prevent serving of objects based upon the request. However, many Internet Service Providers now have rules regarding bandwidth theft which make it a violation of their Terms of Use to cause bandwidth theft from another server using their service. So, while a bandwidth thief may not get hit with monetary repercussions paying back the cost incurred by the person they stole from, they can most certainly, and often do, lose their Internet access over the matter.

To prevent this, I’ve added a few Rewrite rules and conditions to prevent outside sites from linking to my images, movies, flash files, or zip files. If you are currently hotlinking to my site, you’ll need to change some thinks on your site. If you wish to use a graphic found on my site, please save it your computer, upload it to your site, link to it from there, and then send me an email just letting me know that you used it.

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