22 April 2007

Image Hotlinking at EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com

Today I would like to discuss a topic here on the Edward Ringwald Blog about hotlinking of images from both the EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com websites. If you are one of those out there in the land of the World Wide Web that has a profile of yourself on the popular social networking site MySpace this blog topic is for you.

What is hotlinking?

According to altlab.com hotlinking is direct linking to a web site's files such as photos and making it so that it appears as if it were your own image. The key to this is an HTML tag called img. In a web site when you make a reference to a photo that you have on your own web site it is done in two separate formats:

A relative tag: img src = image.jpg
An absolute tag: img src = http://www.someonessite.com/image.jpg

In web design we use these tags to link to images. However, when you use a web design program such as Microsoft FrontPage these tags are taken care of for you.

However, when you are designing your own web page such as a personal profile page in MySpace depending on who you use it is a straightforward process. I believe in MySpace there is a way to link to an image - and you don't have to know HTML to do it!

Why should I be concerned about hotlinking?

Hotlinking when it is to an image or any other object that is not your own is unethical. It's stealing. Why?

First, consider the issue of bandwidth. Take a small water pipe and try to push a very large amount of water through it. No matter how much you try the flow through the small pipe will be slow. You can increase the flow of the water through the pipe by increasing the diameter of the pipe. That's the same principle with bandwidth, only the stuff that flows through the pipe is data rather than water.

Let's say one hotlinks to an image on someone else's web site from a MySpace page. Every time someone accesses your MySpace page it also sends a request to fetch the image from the web site you got it from. Multiply that by so many MySpace visitors and users and the potential for web site overload exists.

In the case of EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com my web sites are hosted on shared web servers at GoDaddy.com, which is a web hosting and domain name provider. I am given a bandwidth allocation per month and if GoDaddy sees that I am exceeding my monthly bandwidth allocation I can be charged extra per month. That can run potentially into the thousands of dollars. Now if you host your own web site on your own it gets very complex, which is why the majority of web sites use a web hosting provider in order to try to hold down costs while concentrating on other things.

Second, consider the issue of copyright and passing off one's image found on the Internet as your own. You can't go around the World Wide Web, grab an image or two, and put it on your web site - images you find on someone else's web site are copyrighted and if you do so you could find yourself on the receiving end of a stern cease and desist letter from an attorney or, at the worst, the losing side of a lawsuit.

In 2005 the principal of Springstead High School in Spring Hill (a community about a hours' drive north of Tampa on the Suncoast Parkway (FL Toll 589)) learned her lesson the hard way about passing someone's words as your own. As part of a graduation ceremony address the principal used words which belonged to someone else and passed them off as if it were her own. That incident prompted me to register my web sites for copyright with the United States Copyright Office in September 2005 during a trip to the Baltimore/Washington area. You can read more about this by following this link to my website for a web topic discussion on copyright; there you will find links to two articles in the St. Petersburg Times on stories related to Springstead High and the 2005 graduation snafu.

So, hotlinking is not just taking something and passing it off as your own - it's theft. It's theft of computing resources. It's also theft of intellectual property rights.

What is being done about the hotlinking issue?

It depends on the web site owner and how it is addressed.

A web site owner often knows of someone hotlinking to his or her files as part of a web site by way of the site server logs - logs that detail where a visitor has come from among other things.

Here at EdwardRingwald.com and at Interstate275Florida.com I have site server logs that I examine periodically to check for hotlinkers. In September 2006 and just recently in April 2007 I have had two incidents of MySpace members hotlinking to images at EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com. Letters were sent to MySpace requesting removal and to date MySpace has complied, which I appreciate.

Most other websites out there usually send warning emails telling someone not to hotlink to an image on their website. The vast majority of hotlinkers usually do it without any ill intent of violating intellectual property rights or not knowing the fact that the hotlinking adds a lot of bandwidth to the website the image is hotlinked to. It is the small minority of hotlinkers who keep on hotlinking to someone else's image after being warned not to that more action is needed.

In a nutshell, what can be said about hotlinking?
  • Hotlinking to someone else's image is stealing that website owner's bandwidth
  • Hotlinking to someone else's image is violating that website owner's IP rights
  • Hotlinking is stealing, period!

If you have a web page out there, whether it be your own personal profile page at MySpace or somewhere else - be creative with your own stuff, but don't use stuff that you find on the World Wide Web that does not belong to you!

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