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Hotlinking Is Theft

Hotlinking sucks. Don't be an Internet parasite.

Opinion page by Duane Alan Hahn.

Page Table of Contents

 

Web Site Parasites

Every image that is displayed on your pages should be uploaded to your own web site. Displaying an image directly from another web site is known as hotlinking, leeching, or direct linking and it is something you should never do. It's bad enough to use an image from another web site without permission, but hotlinking is even worse.

 

There are people who don't know that hotlinking is wrong and stop as soon as they find out, but there are many habitual hotlinkers out there that don't care if it's wrong. They think they're getting away with something, but some web site owners will replace an image with a sick, pornographic picture and the hotlinker can find himself or herself without a web site, blog, or forum membership because displaying an image like that usually violates the terms of service. If you don't hotlink, you'll never have to worry about it.

 

 

 

 

Why Hotlinking is Wrong

Below is one of the best things I have read about bandwidth theft. It is used with permission, courtesy of Devil Doll at wolverineandrogue.com:

 

 

After reading how Devil Doll compares hotlinking to tapping into someone's power line, do you get it now? The damage from this kind of theft might seem small, but it can add up. A tiny leech sucking on your big toe may not seem like a big deal, but imagine thousands of leeches of all sizes covering your whole body. Hotlinking sucks. Don't be an Internet parasite.

 

 

 

 

 

Forum Folly

Many bandwidth thieves say that hotlinking is fine in a forum as long as they post a link to the page it's from, but that is faulty thinking. Many people will pop in to see what the thread is about and then not care. They won't follow the link, but there the image is anyway, each time the thread is viewed (dozens or hundreds or thousands of times). Just give a link to the page and let others decide if they want to visit and there will be no problems for anyone.

 

 

 

 

 

Lock Your Doors or Else?

Some bandwidth thieves say that if you don't want them to steal, you should modify your .htaccess file so that only your web site can display your images, but many people don't have access to that file. It's sad when there are people who act like the only thing keeping them from robbing their neighbor is a locked door. How about doing the right thing just because it's the right thing to do?

 

 

 

 

 

Watermarks

You can discourage bandwidth thieves by using a watermark. Although it won't stop all thieves, your web site name or address will at least be displayed so people know where the image came from.

 

There are programs you can buy that will automatically watermark a large batch of images, so it's not hard to do, even if you have hundreds of images. (Always save backup copies of the original images in case anything goes wrong.)

 

 

 

 

 

No-Right-Click Scripts

A no-right-click script really does work to stop thousands of newbies from hotlinking to your images, but it won't stop everybody. Any kind of no-right-click script will irritate some people, but if you must use a script like that, make sure it doesn't create a pop-up warning box. A lot of people use mouse gestures and an irritating pop-up warning blocks those gestures.

 

 

 

 

 

The Disallow Defense

Search engines with an image search can allow millions of people to hotlink to your images without needing to visit your web site even once. Blocking search engines from including your images in their image searches can often do more to decrease hotlinking than any no-right-click script ever could. All you need is a simple robots.txt file in your root folder and there's a good chance that most of your hotlinking problems will disappear. For example, if you keep your images in a folder called files, using the following in your robots.txt file will stop most search engines from including your images in their image searches:

 

 

If you only want to block Google, you can learn how to do that here:

Remove an image from Google Image Search

 

To make a robots.txt file, just use something like Notepad or anything that can make a clean, simple .txt file. Here's a link where you can learn more:

How to create a /robots.txt file

 

 

 

 

 

Invisible Shield

It took me until the end of 2006 to fully understand that I could use an invisible GIF to easily protect my web site images from the most common hotlinker: the innocent, uninformed, good-natured newbie. To be clear, just like everything else on this page, this is not an original idea. I have read similar things on the Internet over the years, mostly talking about putting an image in the background of a table with an invisible GIF over it or overlapping an image with an invisible GIF using layers. That stuff was in the back of my mind for years, but it wasn't until I was more familiar with DIVs that I figured out that I could put an image in the background of a DIV with an invisible GIF in front of it. Here's an example:

Image from www.InternetBumperStickers.com

If the average hotlinker would right click on that image, grab the address, stick it in their blog, forum post, or web site, they would see nothing and that would discourage most of them. It's better than a no-right-click script since it works even if JavaScript is disabled.

 

For those who need it, below is simplistic sample code. If you know nothing about DIVs and related things, please don't ask me to teach you. I barely understand this stuff myself, so take a few minutes to Google it and learn from a proper tutorial or reference site. Here's the sample code for an image that is linked to another web site:

 

 

This is the same sample code, but for an image that is not linked to anything:

 

 

Just change the code to match what you are going to use and be sure to change the WIDTH and HEIGHT of the DIV. You can also adjust the padding and margin of the DIV in whatever way you need (such as, "margin-left:8px;").

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Google Images

I discovered something cool near the end of 2007. As a test, I edited my robots.txt file so it would no longer block Google Images and waited long enough to see the result. The Invisible Shield trick above made images invisible to Google (none of my images that were behind an Invisible Shield were listed in Google Images). That means you can keep your images out of Google Images even if you have a crappy web host that will not allow you to edit your robots.txt file! (Google is always changing, so I don't know how long this will continue to work.)

 

 

 

 

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