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Hotlinking: What Is It, And Why Is It Bad?

Updated on January 4, 2017

Also, What Is "Bandwidth Theft?"

So, you've found a great graphic on a clip art website, or you've found a Creative Commons graphic that's perfect for your needs. You've made sure you're allowed to use it, and in return, you've given the original artist or photographer credit and a link back.

Feeling proud about being a responsible webizen, you copy the image's URL and paste it into a tag on your page.

Hang on! That's Hotlinking! You need to upload the graphic onto an image host or right into your post.

Thief from Clker.com clip art site
Thief from Clker.com clip art site

Why Hotlinking Is Theft

Even if You Have Permission to Use a Graphic

When I first started on the web in 1993, I hotlinked! We all did. Heck, Harvard's first IT website did it.

I thought it was theft to take a graphic from a clip art site and upload it onto my own website. Wasn't it better to leave the file on the original site, where its origin was clear, and then use HTML to display the image on my own page, like this?

No. I didn't think about how graphics are displayed on the web. Each and every time someone looks at a webpage, their browser has to call up the image host and say, "send that image file over to me." It's like making a phone call.

A few dozen people viewing a clipart gallery doesn't put too much load on the image host.

But what if twenty people want to display that graphic on their own webpages? What if two hundred people do? What if there are two hundred different webpages ALL displaying that graphic, and there's ten people looking at EACH of those webpages? Multiply that by hours, days, and months, and then multiply that by the number of graphics on a clipart site. You can see why hotlinking puts a substantial load on an image host. That load is bandwidth, and someone has to pay for it.

John McCain Busted for Hotlinking

In 2007, John McCain's Myspace page used hotlinked images without permission.

Since he was running for president, you can just imagine how much bandwidth that used!

The graphics' owner fought back by replacing one with an embarrassing and amusing image.

McCain is lucky. Many people replace hotlinked graphics with something obscene.

Parking meter by ccbarpics on Picasa
Parking meter by ccbarpics on Picasa

The Cost of Bandwidth

Bandwidth is Like the Minutes on a Cellphone Plan

Transferring files from a web host over the internet is bandwidth. Bandwidth is part of the cost of webhosting. When someone builds a website, they pay a fee to the webhost where their site -- or clip art -- is stored. Along with storage space, they are allotted so much bandwidth per month.

If we exceed our bandwidth limit, there are penalties. Some webhosts take away our high-speed internet and leave us on dialup speeds until the end of the month. Other webhosts temporarily shut down the site. Photobucket, a popular free image host, replaces images with a small, low-detail "bandwidth exceeded" graphic that uses very little memory. My webhost, like many others, charges me an extra fee for "exceeding my bandwidth." We may lose our site if we don't pay the penalty.

Before I figured out my graphics were getting hotlinked, I had to pay $10 in bandwidth penalties for a few months in a row. And I'm not running a well-known clip art gallery; I've just got a few small pages of clip art.

You can see why some clip art galleries shut down. Others code NO HOTLINKING graphics which will display on your website, or even create rude and horrible images that appear in place of hotlinked graphics. Me? I've set my account so that my images won't display anywhere except pages I specify manually.

So How Do I Avoid Hotlinking?

1. Find a stock photo, public domain or Creative Commons graphic.

2. Download the image to your computer.

3. Upload the image into a Squidoo module like a Text module, or use an image host. See How to Upload Images on Squidoo for all the different ways to get a graphic onto a lens.

Congratulations! You're a good webizen.

Addendum: Affiliate Marketing and "Embedded" Content

If They Say It's Okay, It's Okay

AJ2008 asked me a good question: what about featuring product photos for affiliate marketing programs like Amazon Associates and AllPosters?

Most of these services give you HTML codes which include hotlinked images. In that case, don't worry about it: they're providing photos to help you sell things for them.

Zazzle asks associates to hotlink, too. They can handle the bandwidth. Their members retain the right to remove designs from Zazzle if they choose (so you may want to leave fan mail letting them know you're promoting their art).

Similarly, YouTube gives you "embed" codes which allows you to display its content on other sites. On YouTube, that's fairly standard: users can turn off embed codes if they wish, so if they leave 'em on, it's fair game.

Photobucket and Flickr also give you "embed" codes, allowing you to use them as your image host even if you didn't upload an image to their site. But be careful! Other people use those sites as image hosts for their own, copyrighted images. That means that just because you found an image on Photobucket or Flickr doesn't mean you're free to use it. It has to be marked Creative Commons.

Let's make sure that we do our part to give credit to photographers, artists, writers, and anyone who is offering their work for free.

And let's ALL contribute something to the web for others to use, since most of us have used clip art or other free graphics at some point.

© 2010 Ellen Brundige

Guestbook - Thanks for Stopping By and Getting Informed

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    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 6 years ago

      Damn it - stop writing really good pages about really obvious topics that I then have to bless!

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 6 years ago

      Also the McCain example was awesome :D

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @FlynntheCat1: Isn't it though? :D And the internet is such a delightfully evil place; John McCain is forever linked in my mind to the "Gray Ambition" YouTube video, thanks to the idiot staffer who had him give a speech in front of a green screen that many, many vidders had fun playing with.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      This is so helpful and simple to understand - am wondering if it may also be helpful to add a module - or dare I even suggest a new lens ;) - that mentions any scenarios where it may be OK to hotlink.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 6 years ago

      Well, I know all about it from the receiving end? You know that some guy in a forum is hotlinking to one of my top lenses and then Google image search is picking up on his page for my image? grrrrr

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @julieannbrady: OOOO how annoying, and you can't even delete the image and re-upload it, can you? That's the fish picture, right?

      If it's hosted on your OWN site, you can change it to a NO HOTLINKING YOU THIEF! Graphic and get egg on his face. If it's hosted on Squidoo, though, I don't know what you could do. I'd almost be tempted to email Squidsupport and ask them to delete the image entirely -- if it's gone, nothing will come up when he hotlinks it! -- and then re-upload it. This time, maybe, with a teensy caption to give a link to your site.

      And/or you could post on that forum and call him out for bandwidth theft, or write to the forum admin.

      It's a pain, though. Grr!

    • ssuthep profile image

      ssuthep 6 years ago

      Thanks for this wonderful explanation on hotlinking. Really helpful. I have also been browsing your other lenses about Zazzle images and CSS layout lenses - all such a goldmine of very useful information. Thank you so much.

    • profile image

      BingeSite 6 years ago

      A lot of sites now replace hotlink images automaically, those who don't can easily do so. So yeah hotlink at your own risk. Anyway people can use good free sites like 3ezy.net to host full size images and hotlink them without porn ads or popups. its nice to follow rules sometimes.

      great post, dint know about the mccain thing. hehe

    • Elle-Dee-Esse profile image

      Lynne Schroeder 6 years ago from Blue Mountains Australia

      Thanks for this. I didn't understand this aspect at all so it has been really helpful. Fortunately I also don't have a full handle on html yet so I'm not guilty of hotlinking :)

    • Gloriousconfusion profile image

      Diana Grant 6 years ago from United Kingdom

      This is really clear and helpful information. I never knew that hotlinking was bad - I actually thought it was doing the photo owner a favour, because it directed people to their website! So thanks for the enlightenment. And Angel Blessings to you too

    • SoyCandleLover profile image

      BW Duerr 6 years ago from Henrietta, New York

      Phew! I saw your intro and thought I might have been guilty at some point. Thanks for the clarification about hot-linking.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      EEK! I have work to do. Now, is it hotlinking if I copy image location on Squidoo lenses, since we're all sharing anyway?

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @darciefrench lm: No, that's not hotlinking!

      Although in that case, of course, you have to make sure you have permission to use the image. :)

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 6 years ago

      @mythphile: Oh good -:) Think I'm probably ok as off the top of my head, I'm mostly linking to free squid graphics. How about Allposters? I read the suggestion, which I'm using, to copy image location and then link to where you can buy the poster. I'll be changing that anyway as I now am an allposters affiliate.. but since I have you, what are your thoughts on that? Many thanks!

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 6 years ago from California

      @darciefrench lm: When you're an affiliate selling products, you're not hotlinking, because you've been given permission to use the graphics. In fact, some sites like AllPosters and Zazzle give you codes to display their graphics, because that way they retain control over the images (and can take them down if the product is discontinued). Other affiliate programs like Amazon associates instruct you to download the photos and host them yourself.

      The basic idea is just that you need permission. Becoming an AllPosters affiliate is a great way to get permission to use their excellent image library, even if you don't make many sales!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am so delighed with all the information you have shared with us Greekgeek, it is SUCH A HELP!

      This is so useful, I don't think I even knew what Hot Linking was until I read this!! Maybe that's why a lot of people do it, they don't realize they are doing wrong!

    • RhondaAlbom profile image

      Rhonda Albom 6 years ago from New Zealand

      This is really great information. And that link to McCain's page really made me laugh. So this lens is blessed by the humor angel. If you want to add a link on my humor blog, go ahead (if you don't want it thought of as humor, that's cool too.)

    • profile image

      HelanaRirosknee 6 years ago

      Boy, did I really need this lens. Thanks for the great information. I'm sure I will be referring to it constantly.

    • serenity4me lm profile image

      serenity4me lm 6 years ago

      Nicely put, very interesting about John McCain ( a bit comical ). Have a great night.

    • ghaelendlareh profile image

      ghaelendlareh 5 years ago

      Am new to Squidoo, so this kind of information is really helpful. Thanks!

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      I don't know anything about this, but I'm happy to say that I was accidentally doing it the correct way. :)

    • DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

      DesignedbyLisa LM 5 years ago

      Very well explained!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My question is, what if you own both sites and want the main site to take the brunt of the bandwidth blow, anyway? Is there anything in Google's algorithm that might recognize that you are hotlinking images (but not recognize that you are the owner of both sites) and penalize you for doing so?

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 5 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Eek, I sure hope not! No, I've never heard of Google applying a penalty for hotlinking.

      I hotlink my OWN images from my website all the time, for precisely the reason you mention: I can upload them to my own host at a good resolution without worrying about a third party image host like Photobucket slapping me with a bandwidth filter or degrading the image quality. Then I can display my images anywhere on the web with HTML.

      It's fine to hotlink as long as you have rights to display those images and permission from the person paying for the bandwidth (you) :).

    • profile image

      RuralFloridaLiving 5 years ago

      Thank you - nice work.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for clarifying something I was confused about. Nice lens.

    • LaraineRoses profile image

      Laraine Sims 4 years ago from Lake Country, B.C.

      Thank you. I think that I have been doing this right. I'll be checking out your above lens, How to Upload Images on Squidoo, just to make sure. Must be certain!

    • profile image

      nifwlseirff 4 years ago

      Thank you! I only hotlink from sites like Amazon / Zazzle / etc. - sites that encourage hotlinking within their own associates programs. Occasionally I've hotlinked my own photos (on Flickr) on my blog, but never anyone else's!

    • profile image

      Amelite 4 years ago

      Thanks for the very clear explanation, information, and instructions. I especially like the way you tied in historical and current events to illustrate your points!

    • best dog shop profile image

      best dog shop 4 years ago

      if I am correct: all product images displayed in the amazon modules on Squidoo are hotlinked. I don't think Amazon has a problem with hotlinking. But you are right, most other sites definitely do have problems with hotlinking.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have always used my own photos and also I did not know how to do the html bit.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Talking about not hotlinking and then you go ahead and hotlink, WTF?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Talking about why hotlinking is bad and then hotlinking in the entire page is fail.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: None of the images on this page are hotlinked. If you view the source code of this page, you'll see that all images on this page are hosted/stored directly on this website, Squidoo.

      Some of the images here are public domain or Creative Commons images licensed for other people to reuse. So I give credit and a link pointing to the page they came from. Giving credit is NOT hotlinking.

      A link pointing to another page doesn't use any bandwidth from the host site, and more than a street sign pointing to a street is putting a vehicle on that street. Whereas if I used HTML code to DISPLAY the image stored on their website -- as if I'd created traffic cones diverting traffic onto someone else's driveway -- it would mean that every time someone viewed my page, it would be using their bandwidth by calling up that image. See the difference?

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: P.S. there's an even easier way to confirm that none of the images on this page are hotlinked. Right-click them (command-click on a Mac) and check the URLs to see where the images are stored. They're all Squidoo URLs.

    • mythphile profile image
      Author

      Ellen Brundige 4 years ago from California

      @anonymous: View the source code on this page. None of the images here are hotlinked.

      I think you both are mistaking a link for a hotlink. I realize the terminology is confusing. So let's review.

      Hotlink = HTML code which displays an IMAGE that is stored on someone else's website. So, for example, website B displays an image that is stored on website A. Website B is hotlinking, website A is paying for the bandwidth and image hosting, and website A doesn't get the benefit of a visitor out of the bargain.

      Link = a clickable link that, when clicked, takes a visitor to someone else's website. The image was found on website A, but website B uploads and stores the image on its own site -- thus paying the bandwidth costs -- and simply has a link saying, "This image is courtesy of website A."

      See the difference?

      Creative Commons images may be stored on your own website ONLY if you give credit and a link -- not a hotlink -- pointing back to the source page. So I am complying with the wishes of the image's owner. Clkr.com doesn't require that we give credit for its public domain images, but I like to do so, because it's polite.

    • profile image

      famusic 7 weeks ago

      Thank you for your informative content

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