Peter VanRysdam / Digital Marketing / October 24th, 2008

Guest Article: Hell Hath no Fury like the Hotlinked Webmaster

By Kelly Kilpatrick, special rantingandraving.com contributor:

There are some things that are taboo on the World Wide Web, and if you’re doing one of them, you are bound to get blacklisted sooner than later. We all know that spamming, releasing malware, stealing data, performing denial of service attacks, hosting porn and the like are activities that you should stay away from. But there are others that are not so well known but are still banned or frowned upon, like hotlinking.

For those who don’t know what this means, it’s the practice of linking to images on other sites without downloading the pictures to your system first and then uploading them to your own server. So what’s the big difference you may ask; the difference between the two methods of linking to pictures on another site is that the first is akin to stealing and the second is not (if the site owner has given you permission to use the picture). How does linking to a site make you a thief?

When you link to a site (especially the images there) without downloading them on your system and then uploading them on your server, you’re literally stealing bandwidth and storage from the site you’re linking to, and this is a definite no-no when the other site’s owner is paying their host for the amount of data downloaded or uploaded from and to the site. This amounts to figuratively stealing money from them, because they are paying the price each time a visitor to your site views the image. In some instances, when you link to sites that feature pictures used for commercial purposes, you’re guilty of stealing intellectual property – like plagiarism when you copy what someone’s written without their permission.

Some people hotlink because they don’t know any better, but there are others who do it even though they know it’s wrong. Webmasters are now becoming smart – they’re protecting what’s theirs by using .htaccess files to prevent their images from being misused. When these files are used, visitors to your site see one of three things in place of the image you linked to illegally – a broken link, a message that the image was hotlinked and so is not visible, or in the worst case, another image that is offensive to your viewers.  

Even if site owners are not yet wise to the fact that you’re hotlinking to their images or CSS files, don’t be too confident that this situation will last forever. There are methods that webmasters can use to find out if anyone is hotlinking to their site, and when they find anomalies in their usage details, you can bet that this is the first thing they’re going to be checking up on. So, link all you want, but do so responsibly. 

By-line: This post was contributed by Kelly Kilpatrick, who writes on the subject of how to become a travel agent. She invites your feedback at kellykilpatrick24 at gmail dot com