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8.02.2005

The ethics of hotlinking?

Okay, folks, I need your ethical opinion here. In the context I use it in this blog, what do you think of hotlinking? Here's a description, from the article Bandwidth theft - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Web pages may link to other web pages using hyperlinks. The hyperlink object allows a viewer to click on a link to reach another site. The owner supplies bandwidth as a gift, or to sell something, etc.

"It is possible to use a HTML tag in a webpage to embed material from another site in it. Thus when the webpage is sent to someone to view, the bandwidth for the embedded material is supplied by the owner of the second site. Simply linking to a file is also considered to be bandwidth theft.

"This may not be desirable for the owner of the second site: he or she may only be willing to supply the material, with the corresponding bandwidth, if that material is viewed embedded in his or her own webpages, e.g. because otherwise it does not help him earn money which compensates for the bandwidth cost.

"This may be considered unfair and even be called 'bandwidth theft'. If there are no copyright restrictions, it would be considered fairer if the owner of the first site puts copies of the embedded material on his or her own site. If there are copyright restrictions, the alternative would be to just link to the other site."

Now, here's my issue. I can very, very easily take images and post them to my Blogger site via Hello. I'm not "stealing images because I'm lazy". In fact, I'm not "stealing images" at all, and that's the point. You sometimes see images on this blog, and the folks who put those images out on the internet are the ones who own/control those images. I'm linking to their material, displaying the image that's publicly accessible. If I download the image and serve it off a server that I control, they no longer control their image. To me, that seems to be further away from "fair use" than displaying something that's already publicly available on the 'net.

Does that make sense?

Note also that I'm putting this in the context of my use here. I think it's unethical to take someone else's graphic and use it on your site as your own, for your own purposes, independent of their original use. For example, if I took the image of the happy eHarmony couple from the last post and put it on my blog as an example of happy couples in general, that would be wrong -- especially if I were hotlinking to it. But if I'm posting a critique of eHarmony, and I can link to eHarmony's site, what are the ethics surrounding the display of a relevant image -- the image that people will see as soon as they click on the link I'm providing? The image isn't making my site "pretty"; it's encouraging people to follow the link to the site the image came from. That's what it's all about, right?

With so many people against hotlinking as "bandwidth theft", what's the feeling about hotlinking as "content ownership preservation"?

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