Is there any etiquette to hotlinking images from third parties?
January 1, 2004 3:52 PM   Subscribe

This comment got me thinking: is there a standard etiquette for displaying inline images from third-party servers on either private blogs or community sites like MeFi? Is it always appropriate, never appropriate, or only appropriate depending on the source and the server from which the image originates?
posted by PrinceValium to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
Rarely appropriate - better to put a copy of the image on your own server, assuming copyright is not an issue. If you want to refer to an image, why not just link to the url of the page on which it appears? I have a problem with needless repetition, I think.
posted by nthdegx at 4:15 PM on January 1, 2004

Never ever ever appropriate unless you first ask for and receive permission.

Hotlinking also has the possibility of producing highly embarrassing results, should the image owner decide to replace it with something else.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:16 PM on January 1, 2004

Never appropriate, IMHO, without asking for and receiving permission. If you link images inline and your site/post/whatever gets a ton of traffic suddenly, you could potentially crash someone's site or cost them real money in bandwidth overages. Plus, it's just bad form. I use .htaccess file methods to keep my images from being hijacked like this.

I've found that a lot of people don't really know not to do this, etiquette-wise, so I usually send people nice emails asking them to stop [90% of which go to livejournal users without their own webspace to put images in] and then if they don't, I replace the image with raunchy porn.
posted by jessamyn at 5:17 PM on January 1, 2004

I've done it to an Amazon picture, once. And I feel bad about it to this day. I should have posted it to something like MSN, and linked from there, but they close your account if you don't tend to it regularly, and I don;t post to B3TA anyomore so I let it lapse; and I'd have to open up another account, and then there's the downloading and the uploading...

My guilt is only aleviated by the knowledge that the post has drifted into the MeFi mists of posts past.

I shouldn't have done it: let this be my confession.

(Suitable suggestions for acts of contrition gratefully accepted.)
posted by Blue Stone at 5:24 PM on January 1, 2004

Response by poster: Devils advocate: Isn't hotlinking to Amazon or Yahoo really a victimless crime? When the bandwidth damage is so microscopic compared to the company's overall usage, isn't this sort of like watching all your TV in a storefront window because you don't want to buy your own? It's not the most efficient way of doing things, but you're also not really harming anybody.
posted by PrinceValium at 6:01 PM on January 1, 2004

Add another vote for "never." I, at the end of my piddling little 128kbps bandwidth pipe, have been victim of having one of my images posted to an extremely high traffic site (Metafilter, actually). If it were just a link instead of an img I probably wouldn't have cared, but I was getting clobbered with every load of the thread.

It's extremely bad form, because that act could cost somebody actual money. Or as in my case, cause an entire household's uplink to get clogged with requests to the exclusion of normal traffic.
posted by majick at 6:24 PM on January 1, 2004

should the image owner decide to replace it with something else.

*casts wicked grin of agreement in crash_davis direction*

blort is constantly the target of third party image links. i had no idea until i put in a script to detect it, and then later to just prevent it. after 3 years, there are over 4,300 images in my assets directory, and i was stunned to learn the number of times i was serving many of them out for the convenience of people who want to use them as avatars or in sigs on bbs-type sites, or as decoration for their blogs. and, new people continue to link them even though they result in a server response of "forbidden". go figger.
posted by quonsar at 7:44 PM on January 1, 2004

"people continue to link them even though they result in a server response of 'forbidden'."

They might not notice: their own copy is cached from their legitimate visit, their cache isn't being refreshed, and they aren't paying enough attention to anybody else's copy to know it's 403. Of course, there are enough outright stupid people to account for the phenomenon, too.
posted by majick at 8:21 PM on January 1, 2004

That said, I used to use the Yahoo! "new.gif" image on the principle that most people probably already had it in their cache somewhere. So I'm a bit of a hypocrite.
posted by majick at 8:24 PM on January 1, 2004

Actually, I don't see much of a problem with hotlinking images on major news sites and the like. I know many would disagree. Never for personal sites, though, I concur.

I've also had the problem that quonsar describes, and also have been known to replace the outbound images with icky porn, before I was given access recently to the very useful tool at Hosting Matters that does automatic redirect of externally hotlinked images from my site (with customizable domain exceptions). Before that, it was a massive bandwidth eater, as I'm lazy as hell about checking on things like that.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:24 PM on January 1, 2004

(the Hosting Matters tool I mentioned*)

(*...not PepsiBluevertizing. Just FYI.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:33 PM on January 1, 2004

Rather than just replacing leeched images, I use Apache's mod_rewrite directives to carefully redirect images from their original to a context-appropriate replacement.

My favorite trick for loathesome livejournal users is to substitute the image for text in a font and color identical to their page design, such that it appears to be a normal entry. The new text, however, is generally about sodomizing goats or thereabouts.

Gets the greatest comments from their friends...
posted by Danelope at 11:22 PM on January 1, 2004

I've done it to an Amazon picture, once

This would fall under one of the rare "appropriate" situations, in my book. While not right, exactly, I don't think it's a big deal to hotlink images from the huuuuuge sites where bandwidth simply isn't an issue for them. Still better to grab the image and bung it on your own server, though. Again, copyright issues notwithstanding.
posted by nthdegx at 1:30 AM on January 2, 2004

I think linking images from amazon is alright, especially since they basically have agreements with uber-loads of people to shill their stuff from other web sites anyways, and have a software system in place to let you hook into their server.

From a personal website? Never. Ever. Ever. Never.

From a news web site? Probably not, those photographs are generally copyrighted and well guarded, and the news site wil see you in their logs eventually.
posted by benjh at 5:24 AM on January 2, 2004

never appropriate. ever.

my course of action has been to 1 - contact the individual. if that doesn't work 2 - contact the isp. and if they drag they're feet, 3 - resort to porn or other alternate images.

back in '95 after netscape introduced 1.1 and the background attribute in the body tag, i created a background archive. even though i clearly stated terms of use, people hotlinked to the images with alarming frequency. personally, i'd like a "thou shall not hotlink" reminder on startup.
posted by heather at 6:55 AM on January 2, 2004

My conscience [re. linking to Amazon] appears somewhat salved, though it still feels wrong, and I won't be doing it again.

Some time ago, the whole concept of "bandwidth" didn't register at all. I only picked up how serious an issue it could be through reading Slashdot, and seeing the terrible terrible devastation that swarm-of-locusts-of-a-site, can do. ;)

Gradually the the concept sunk in. People aren't really introduced to the basic currency of the internet when they first get on the internet: "This intarweb, it works like the tv?" Inevitably, people don't understand the consequences what they're doing in appropriating an image from some tiny personal site.

[Something should be done, etc.]
posted by Blue Stone at 9:01 AM on January 2, 2004

I've done it to an Amazon picture, once

If you are part of their associates program, they make it super easy to hotlink images from there through the build-a-link stuff - Amazon provides the link to the image (hosted on their server) along with the link to the item itself. But that would be one case where the website specifically allows the hotlinking. I say its never ever appropriate unless the website specifically states it is okay, or if you are granted permission.
posted by rhapsodie at 12:23 PM on January 2, 2004

Somethingawful used to have a trick where they'd check the referer [sic] of the URL for the image request. If it didn't match, they'd send an image of a big penis in the middle of um, climax.

It worked wonderfully, because your browser would first cache the original image and when you previewed your site with the image you saw the correct one. Then the viewers of your site saw the questionable one. Brilliant.
posted by LukeyBoy at 1:48 PM on January 2, 2004

<Directory /path/to/my/site>
Options None
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer mydomain\.com|myotherdomain\.com locally_linked=1
SetEnvIfNoCase Referer "^$" locally_linked=1
<FilesMatch "\.(gif|png|jpe?g|mpe?ga?|swf|mov|avi|qt|mp3|wav)$">
Order Allow,Deny
Allow from env=locally_linked
posted by quonsar at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2004

The one time it happened to me was this weekend -- someone snagged an image and used in a Craigslist posting. I sent them a polite e-mail pointing out that not only did it suck down my bandwidth, but they also violated the Creative Commons license I had on the picture. I cc'd the e-mail to was shocked to get e-mail from Craig himself about half an hour later. The poster apologized the next day, saying he didn't realize that it was a bad thing until he read my e-mail.
posted by Vidiot at 8:34 AM on January 8, 2004

another way of doing it: in .htaccess
RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^*$ [NC]
ReWriteRule .*\.(Jpg|jpg|JPG|jpeg|png|PNG|gif|GIF)$ [R,L]

I'm pleasantly surprised to hear that some of you have gotten responses on polite emails where the person apologizes. I've stopped trying as all I got was cocky abusive replies, and we're talking images who's copyrights still belong to someone else, like the photographer.

General rule, don't do it unless the webpage says you can [like amazons associates program does]
posted by dabitch at 2:20 AM on January 21, 2004

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