Friday Question: Should I Let People Hotlink to My Images?

By Daniel Scocco

Michael Murphy asks:

I recently had an incoming link from another blog, so of course went to check it out to see who had linked me. No one had, really, but they did find an image I had on my site and post it on their blog – which shows as a linkback (clicking the image takes the user to the image location on my site).

I don’t care about the obvious negative effects of hotlinking at this time. I’ve noticed this happening a few times with images and don’t mind when there is no real additional strain on bandwidth.

My question is…are there any positive benefits for allowing people to hotlink images from your blog? Is there any simple way to drive people viewing the image to the blog homepage?

First things first, what is hotlinking? Also known as inline linking and bandwidth theft, hotlinking refers to the practice of using objects (most of the times images) from one site inside the page of a second site.

While this practice was recognized by the original web architecture, lately people tend to associate it with malicious uses. When you hotlink to the images hosted on another site, for instance, you will end up “stealing” the bandwidth of that website and possibly infringing its copyrights. Should the owner of that site remove the image you will also be left with a broken link.

As you can see, hotlinking to other people’s images is not a smart idea. What about letting other people hotlink to your images, though?

Michael stated that he is not worried about it, because the increased bandwidth consumption is negligible. Personally I also am not too worried if people hotlink to my images, too. The only situation where you should care is when the bandwidth consumed by these external sites is significant, or when you have copyrighted images (e.g., art work) that you don’t want to see around the web without proper attribution.

If you want to block people hotlinking your images you can use the following .htaccess code (check the Preventing Image Bandwidth Theft With .htaccess article for a full explanation on how it works):

SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^http://www.your-domain-name-here.com/" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^http://www.your-domain-name-here.com$" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^http://your-domain-name-here.com/" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^http://your-domain-name-here.com$" locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1
<FilesMatch "\.(gif|png|jpe?g)$">
Order Allow,Deny
Allow from env=locally_linked
</FilesMatch>

Michael also asks if there are any benefits from allowing people to hotlink your images. Yes there are some, provided that the hotlinked image has a link to your website. That will count as a standard backlink, and it might help your search engine rankings. Secondly, if the visitor clicks on the hotlinked image he will be transfered to your site. In reality he will be transfered to the image location, but there is a possibility that he will manually correct the URL to visit your homepage.

Finally, Michael asks if there is any way to redirect people that will end up visiting the image files to your homepage. I am not a .htaccess expert, but I suspect it would be possible to accomplish that with some code. I will ask some friends about it and post the findings shortly. If you know how to create such a redirect with PHP or .htaccess let me know and I will publish your solution.



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26 Responses to “Friday Question: Should I Let People Hotlink to My Images?”

  • ravi

    Correct, most of the time people keep the link though, at least from my experience.

    If people are just hotlinking your images without the live link then yes I would turn them off.

  • Abby Bob

    Mike, you may direct people who want to hotlink your images to acobox.com, where they can hotlink free, properly licensed, and very nice images.

  • Alex Griffin

    Hey Mike… your are bang ON! Few hotlinked images are OK, but at times people tend to take advantage. Overall Hotlinking is not acceptable, technically it is ‘Bandwidth stealing’ coupled with ‘content stealing’. And hotlinking is no good way of free advt… if that was the case, then Google adsene would have already opened new section for hotlinkers, joking…

  • Mike

    In most cases it wouldn’t bother me.

    However if another site links directly to a photo on my site and claims it as their own and/or uses it in some sort of fashion to drive readership/revenue with no permission from me.. Lets just say their readership is gonna get a nasty surprise. Don’t forget you can change your links easily and insert some other rather nasty photo in place of the one they are hotlinking to. 🙂

  • Mike Panic

    Ben,

    Pissing contests are boring, please read up on your facts:

    Infringement may occur when one party, the “infringer”, uses a trademark which is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark owned by another party, in relation to products or services which are identical or similar to the products or services which the registration covers.

    Source: Wikipedia.

    I am not selling coffee, I used both of their logos in fair use for an opinionated news article. Additionally, please reference the Wikipedia, which goes to great lengths to ensure that it does not violate the TOS of any given company whose logo they may use. The wikipedia also provides vector graphics of many major company logos, including Starbucks and links to the Fair Use act that I have earlier.

    Taking a second look at your site, which is almost totally hotlinked, you don’t even link back to where you are stealing the images from and you are violating sites TOS. You have an article for Shrimp with Basil that you are hotlinking an image to. The TOS from the site you are hotlinking from says,

    In connection with your use of the Sites and/or the Services, you acknowledge and agree that you will not:

    a. copy, reverse engineer, reverse assemble, otherwise attempt to discover the source code, distribute, transmit, display, perform, reproduce, publish, license, create derivative works from, transfer or sell any information, software, products or services obtained through the Sites or the Services;

    n. use the Sites and/or the Services for any purpose that is unlawful or prohibited by these terms and conditions. You may not use the Site or the Services in any manner that could damage, disable, overburden or impair WM’s servers or networks

    Taken from, Terms of service

    It is a good looking recipe though.

    Do everyone a favor, be a responsible blogger and acquire your images legally from the CC or royalty free sites, SXC.hu is free, just requires a username / password or iStockphoto.com [ref link] where images cost as little as a buck.

  • Ben

    Mike

    Copyright material is one thing, trademark infringement is another. Unless you got permission from Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts you have infringed on both companies trademarks by posting them in your article. I guess that makes you a trademark splogger. Kinda’ makes your arguments for copyrights a little lame.

    As far as hotlinking being a way to steal bandwith, I concede that point. So for all you potential sploggers, just download the picture or article to your computer. Format it and add your copyright to it and then upload it to your blog files. That should end the hotlinking problem. Will not solve the copyright or trademark problem, but will end bandwith stealing.

  • Mike Panic

    Sean,

    In your case, you are no better than a splogger. I did look at your site, the images you are hotlinking to were, at my best guess, shot exclusively for that hotel or resort. That hotel or resort paid a photographer to come out and shoot it and the rights to use those images on their website (and possibly printed brochures, business cards, etc.). In your case you are using “work for hire” that someone else paid for in order to give your articles more substance. While it is true that your articles now look better because they have these really nice photos, you still shouldn’t be using them.

    Ben,

    You can have all the feelings in the world, at the core, you are using someone else’s bandwidth and graphics to make your articles more appealing, for a monetary gain.

    Additionally, before you start pointing fingers, I suggest you look up something called fair use.

    “Under the fair use doctrine of the U.S. copyright statute, it is permissible to use limited portions of a work including quotes, for purposes such as commentary, criticism, news reporting, and scholarly reports.”

    Quoted from, copyright.gov

  • Ben

    Mike

    I appreciate that you as an artist don’ t won’t your images used without your permission. I respect that position but still feel that it is advertising for that person’s work of art. Personally, I think it is more of a compliment that someone would want to use my stuff.

    I do have one question for you. Did you get Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts permission to use their logos on this post:

    http://www.randomn3ss.com/2008/02/26/starbucks-closes-dunkin-donuts-offers-free-lattes-today/

    or did you download them to upload them to your site?

    ‘Nuff said on this subject.

  • Sean O

    Mike –

    I appreciate your comments but in my case I wouldn’t expect that it was an agency that owned the images. As I said but maybe was not clear about, I am commenting on a physical location (hotel, restaurant, resort, etc) and in most cases the images are those chosen by that establishment to showcase their product. I am discussing their product and giving recommendations on it so it is appropriate that I use the images that they provide.

    I wouldn’t do hotlinking if I was just showing standard art or landscapes or the such but in this case, if I am discussing a location’s restaurant and they provide an image of that restaurant it does them good for me to display it. By linking to it rather than copying it, I allow them to evolve that image over time if they choose.

    I am sure that you didn’t visit my site (www.vacationspotscomments.com) prior to calling me a splogger so I will just let that insult slide off of my back.

  • Mike Panic

    I think it was Shoemoney who recently wrote about changing the pic that is hotlinked to a graphic that says something to the effect that this person is a THIEF and Lowlife individual that stole this picture lol. Somethink to think about.

    Many a site do this, and the images they use for their .htaccess hotlinking tend not to not exactly be work safe and outright say THIEF on the. The problem is, the person who is hotlinking won’t see that this NSFW image that is being displayed from the site they are “stealing” content from until they clear their browsers cache, do a hard refresh on the page or view from a different IP address. It can suck pretty bad if you don’t find out until someone leaves you comments.

    There are plenty of places on the web you can get royalty free photos for free or low cost and the Creative Commons licenses tend to be pretty easy to use as well, so look into it.

    I am typically linking to a commercial site that is advertising their business. I feel that they should own that image not me so if I downloaded the image and reposted it then they would not be able to update it for the future.

    You are incorrect in being correct. That commercial site probably doesn’t own the image, they more than likely own the rights to use that image for said publication for said period of time. You hotlinking to it could actually void the TOS they have with the agency they purchased that image from. Unless you are hotlinking via an affiliate, as most affiliates actually encourage you to use their images, you are not doing anyone a favor.

    I always change the image from a static image to a link to the page that contained the image (not just a link to the image itself). This is much more valuable for PageRank to the host site than just a link to the image.

    Forget PR for a minute and think about what you are really doing. You are giving the reader of your blog an excuse to leave it, with no benefit to you at all. They will not view more articles by you and they are not clicking an affiliate rank. Bring PR back in the loop and you are now hurting your PR due to the number of outbound links you created.

    depending on the size of the original image, I will almost always shrink the image on my site so that it looks much better on the host site than it does on my site.

    If you are shrinking via the resize function in the IMG tag for HTML in WP or hard coded, you aren’t really doing anyone a favor. The file size is still the same and that is what hurts in a page load speed and eat bandwidth.

    I feel that, in general, I am doing the host site a favor by using their image and I am giving them more credit by hot linking than by reposting.

    I’m glad you have feelings, but you are not doing anyone any favors. Acquire images legally or, in my eyes, you are no better than a splogger.

  • Ray Fowler

    “Finally, Michael asks if there is any way to redirect people that will end up visiting the image files to your homepage.”

    Here is the code that I use to block hotlinking and redirect people to my homepage at the same time:

    RewriteEngine on
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?rayfowler.org(/)?.*$ [NC]
    RewriteRule .*\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|bmp)$ http://www.rayfowler.org [R,NC]

    Just substitute your domain name where I have rayfowler.org. I got this code at HTML Basix

  • Tejvan Pettinger

    Some of my sites have huge amounts of hotlinking. It’s main irritation is that it messes up my sites. In my experience very few hotlinks keep the links as well. So they are mostly useless.

  • Phil

    I think it was Shoemoney who recently wrote about changing the pic that is hotlinked to a graphic that says something to the effect that this person is a THIEF and Lowlife individual that stole this picture lol. Somethink to think about.

  • Davinder

    Hey Mike… your are bang ON!

    Few hotlinked images are OK, but at times people tend to take advantage.

    Overall Hotlinking is not acceptable, technically it is ‘Bandwidth stealing’ coupled with ‘content stealing’.

    And hotlinking is no good way of free advt… if that was the case, then Google adsene would have already opened new section for hotlinkers, joking… 😉

  • Sean O

    I regularly hotlink images for my Vacation blog (http://www.vacationspotscomments.com/). While I understand that this practice is on the edge of infringement, I justify it by the following logic:
    – I am typically linking to a commercial site that is advertising their business. I feel that they should own that image not me so if I downloaded the image and reposted it then they would not be able to update it for the future.
    – I always change the image from a static image to a link to the page that contained the image (not just a link to the image itself). This is much more valuable for PageRank to the host site than just a link to the image.
    – depending on the size of the original image, I will almost always shrink the image on my site so that it looks much better on the host site than it does on my site.

    I feel that, in general, I am doing the host site a favor by using their image and I am giving them more credit by hot linking than by reposting.

  • djStelios

    This is a good solution to redirect people that will end up visiting the image files to your homepage (I hope to error will occur posting the comment). The lines bellow must be entered at .htacces file of your images directory

    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} myimage.jpg [NC]
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://(www\.)?mysite\.com [NC]
    RewriteRule (.*) http://www.mysite.com/mypage.htm

    The adobe code will redirect any request for “myimage.jpg” not revered from “mysite.com” (with our without www) at the URL http://www.mysite.com/mypage.htm.

  • Mike Panic

    I find it curious that people would get upset about their pics being hotlinked. What better way to get free advertising for your site.

    I’m a photographer, I watermark all my images, that doesn’t mean they can’t be cropped off. I usually get paid for my services as a photographer. If some blogger decides to hotlink to my images, it isn’t free advertising. It’s using my images to make their blog look better or to give an article more character. Normally, I charge for web-use photographs. I also sell royalty free stock photography just for this reason.

    Aside from that, hotlinking is tacky and, in the long run, it costs people money. Not just money from me not selling you the photos, but because I pay for my hosting.

    Besides, if someone really wanted to download and save the pic and then upload to their site, they can. So that would leave the orginal website out of the picture. Or worse, trying to prove that it is your picture and not the site that has the copy.

    You are right, and this is wrong as well.

    The internet would be a much better place if we all just share and give credit to the sharing site. Personally, you can hotlink all my pics, because I believe in sharing.

    OK, let me put this in perspective for you. Since you belive in sharing Ben, I am going to copy your entire articles, all of them, and republish them on a new blog. I will happily hot-link your images as well and I’ll give a small, 6pt font credit with link to the “original” article in the footer. I will use Adsense & Chitika ads every other paragraph and throw in some Amazon affiliate ads for flair. Now, I don’t need to create content on my own because you are going to do it for me and I will reap the financial benefits, all because you believe in sharing.

    Wait, people do this already, it’s called a Splog.

  • DJ at Fermentarium

    I let it slide, but I’ve started putting my url in the corner of every image. So if they hotlink, my domain will still be in front of them.

  • Ben

    I find it curious that people would get upset about their pics being hotlinked. What better way to get free advertising for your site.

    Besides, if someone really wanted to download and save the pic and then upload to their site, they can. So that would leave the orginal website out of the picture. Or worse, trying to prove that it is your picture and not the site that has the copy.

    The internet would be a much better place if we all just share and give credit to the sharing site. Personally, you can hotlink all my pics, because I believe in sharing.

  • Daniel

    I just rephrased the post to reflect that, thanks Patrick.

  • Daniel

    Correct, most of the time people keep the link though, at least from my experience.

    If people are just hotlinking your images without the live link then yes I would turn them off.

  • Patrick Altoft

    A hotlinked image doesn’t count as a backlink unless there is a clickable link using the

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