What is Hotlinking and Why is it Bad When You Do It Without Permission?

Why hotlinking is bad

There are certain practices that people partake in online that they don’t realize are a no-no. Hotlinking is one of them.

What is hotlinking?

Hotlinking is when you use a picture or another file from another website and you just embed it in your site (using a code), instead of uploading it directly. It means you’re serving up a file and it isn’t on your own server.

An example is if you see a picture on Awesomely Luvvie and you’re like “OOOO I wanna use it on my site.” So instead of pressing save and then uploading it, you just put the html code so it can show up on your site. Unless a website explicitly gives you permission to do this (by serving up an embed code), that is considered stealing.

Instagram, YouTube and other sites like that provide us with embed codes. Those sites are giving you permission to do that. So unless a site gives you an embed code with an image or video, then they are not giving you permission to hotlink their files.

Embed code

The presence of this is permission to hotlink. Absence means don’t do it.

When you hotlink, you’re stealing. How is this theft? Because site owners are paying for space that hosts all of their files. So when you place a picture or a file on your website without directly uploading it, you are using bandwidth from the server of whatever site you embedded it from. You’re stealing from their allotted resources.

Every time someone views the pic or file on your website, you’re taking more from the original site. This can be expensive for that site owner too (especially if they’re small businesses or blogs) because we pay for certain space and bandwidth every month. We can end up going over and being charged extra if the wrong person hotlinks something and it ends up being requested (aka seen) many times.

So you can literally cost someone money by being too lazy to save and upload a picture you want to use. Not only are you taking an image from someone else’s site but you’re using their resources to show it.


Why else is hotlinking bad?

If the website where you’re hotlinking an image/file deletes it, then the image is broken on your end too. Basically, it means you have less control over what happens to the visuals on your site.

What should you do if someone hotlinks your image?

Most times, people don’t realize that hotlinking is a form of theft so just send them an email telling them to fix it. First of all, let them know whether they can even use the image at all. Because on top of the bandwidth theft can be the issue of copyright infringement (read: A Guide to Intellectual Property, Copyrights and Trademarks for Businesses, Blogs and Brands). If they can use the pic, just tell them know to upload the file to their own server. A majority of the time, your request will be accepted and dealt with.

What some people do when the person they send an email to does not respond is that they replace the original hotlinked image with a graphic that puts the offense on blast. Such as:

Dont Hotlink

“If you see em, call em out.”

How do you do this? If someone is using a picture of yours with the file name “Dontsteal.jpg” then you upload a picture of the same name to the same location so it replaces that pic. That way, whoever is hotlinking the pic will now see the NEW image instead of the old one. It’s a passive aggressive (but effective) way to also deal with this.

The moral of this story is: site owners, please don’t hotlink images from someone else’s site. If you need to show a pic, save it and upload it to your own server.

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Why hotlinking is bad