Um, Sorry, But You Don't Get To Sue When Somebody Moves Images You're Hotlinking

from the so-many-stupid-people dept

While courts around the world have come to different conclusions on the legality of hotlinking -- placing an inline link in a web page to an image hosted on a different web server -- it's a practice that's generally regarded as bad internet manners. The cases have generally focused on the sites displaying other people's images, but this point was apparently lost on one bright spark, who threatened the host of a site whose images he was hotlinking with a lawsuit (via Kottke.org) after the host took the original site down and deleted the images. Again, while courts differ on their views about hotlinking, it's pretty unlikely that any court would agree that the person doing the hotlinking has a right to the continued use of the images. This guy felt otherwise, at least until he actually spoke to his lawyer about it, who apparently clued him in. In some way, it's sort of disappointing that the guy's lawyer didn't want to move forward, since the suit would been pretty amusing.


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:22am

    Idiots all over the internet, one of the many reasons the concept of "citizen journalists" really scares the crap out of me. can you imaging this toad reporting on a copyright infringement trial?

     

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  2.  
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    Kazi, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:24am

    OOO ... so I can take other people's images who pay for the bandwidth cost and use them on my site and call them mine?

    He should have received the hosting bill for the bandwidth and see if he wants to pay it ...

     

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  3.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:26am

    Thanks for not equating hotlinking with either theft or copyright infringement, as others have done when posting this story. As I've written previously over at John Dvorak's blog, hotlinking is neither theft nor infringement.

     

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  4.  
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    TheStupidOne, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Re:

    nobody says you need to read what "citizen journalists" write. If a complete idiot is writing a blog why would anybody ever start reading it?

     

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  5.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    "Thanks for not equating hotlinking with either theft or copyright infringement, as others have done when posting this story. As I've written previously over at John Dvorak's blog, hotlinking is neither theft nor infringement."

    Ditto that. Pointing to something on the 'net is not a crime. (Well, except in Japan, apparently.)

     

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  6.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:32am

    Re:

    When you hotlink you don't "take" anything. You're merely directing the viewer's browser to a particular server to access a particular file which was placed there by a person without any restriction.

    When you hotlink, the hotlinked image is never transfered through your server. It goes directly from the host server to the viewer's computer. That's the same thing that happens with any link. So if hotlinking to an image is evil, then under your logic merely linking to an image is equally as evil.

     

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  7.  
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    Justin, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:40am

    ??

    So the lawyer didn't carry through on the lawsuit and you are disappointed? I know that I can find other techdirt articles that call that exact same type of lawyer an idiot and call him into question because he did follow through. You also wish that there were layers like this guy who would figure it out and not waste everybody's time. Can you please come up with which side you want to be on and stick with it?

     

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  8.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:46am

    Re: ??

    So the lawyer didn't carry through on the lawsuit and you are disappointed?

    Huh? Who was disappointed?!? No one's disappointed. The fact that the lawyer explained to his client that this was a bad idea is undeniably a good thing. What Carlo pointed out was bad was that the guy even thought he could sue in the first place.

     

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  9.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:49am

    Yet another example of entitlement

    As I've written about previously, there's a bizarre sense of entitlement around nowadays. Aretha Franklin claims that she is entitled to money merely because she wore a hat. The producers of Britain's Got Talent want to be paid based on Boyle's amazing singing ability. And newspaper journalists want to be paid because "their" news articles become newsworthy.

    In this situation we have a person who hosts a picture on his publicly accessible server and feels entitled to something merely because someone else linked to it. It's not enough that the linking is giving more attention to the picture, it's that the linker is somehow "stealing" or "taking credit" for the picture. And that it's somehow "unfair." (Which is simply nonsense!)

    Get over it. If you don't want people linking to your pictures, don't fricken post them on the web. Problem solved.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Rob, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:57am

    "In some way, it's sort of disappointing that the guy's lawyer didn't want to move forward, since the suit would been pretty amusing."


    That really is a shame, this could have been one of the funniest legal smackdowns in the history of the Internet, not to mention the fact that the plaintiff would have had to reveal his identity to do that, and would certainly have got to meet the Internet very quickly :-D.

     

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  11.  
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    Sandra Smallie, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 11:59am

    Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    "In this situation we have a person who hosts a picture on his publicly accessible server and feels entitled to something merely because someone else linked to it. "

    "In this situation we have a person who hosts a picture and someone else feels entitled to something merely because he had linked to it."

    There... Fixed that for ya!

     

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  12.  
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    Jim Lillicotch, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:03pm

    I am a theavin a##hole

    I used to have a site that lots of folks would hotlink to the images. It was pretty easy to see which ones they were in the logs. Before I got tired and disallowed that completely I used to replace the image that someone linked to with one that said "I am a theavin a##hole". That usually stopped them.

     

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  13.  
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    ike, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:04pm

    The best part is that Geocities is being shut down later this year. I guess this guy will be suing Yahoo shortly!

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: ??

    I think Justin was referring to this comment:

    "In some way, it's sort of disappointing that the guy's lawyer didn't want to move forward, since the suit would been pretty amusing."

    I think it's pretty clear from the context that Carlo doesn't actually think there should have been a lawsuit.

     

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  15.  
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    james, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:15pm

    Re:

    Republishing copyrighted material without the owner's consent is, in most cases, infringement. Hotlinking is irrelevant, you are still republishing the material.

    There are many exceptions to copyright that allow for legal republishing of copyrighted work, but these exceptions do not cover all republishing, just a few.

    Even if the copyrighted material is republished legally, say as part of a review (and in this case, you still can't republish all if it, just a small part) hotlinking to the copyrighted material is still, as Carlo points out, bad manners because you are leaching someone else's bandwidth for you own purposes.

    Hotlinking and linking are not the same thing at all.

    But according to your thinking, it would be OK for say Coca-Cola to create a banner advertisement that hotlinks to one of my copyrighted images and then use that ad all over the internet. Not only infringing my copyright by republishing my work without permission, but also leaching my bandwidth to do it. So I wind up actually paying them (or at least cover their costs). Brilliant.

     

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  16.  
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    james, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    Linking and hotlinking are two separate things, do you not understand that?

     

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  17.  
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    Jebrew (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re:

    "Republishing copyrighted material without..."

    Let me stop you right there. If I describe where something that is copyrighted is and you go view this copyrighted material, I fail to see how that's infringement. Sure, hotlinking is rude and if you're using it inline with a page, then it can be highly disingenuious as to the source, but you're still not republishing.

    If Coca-Cola reprints your copyrighted material, then they've created a copy, and not according to their rights, so it's infringement. If they simply point back to your site for the image, then it's not. Very simple.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    james, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Hotlinking is the practice of placing an image (or other material) from someone else's server into another page. It is not linking, it is hotlinikng. A link pointing to the original material is not a hotlink.

    Coca-Cola could create an ad that 'calls' an image from my server and places it in their ad. They don't have to copy it. That would be infringement. If they had an add that simply described my image and then linked to it, that's not infringement.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    DJ, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:49pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    In many ways, hotlinking is similar to free advertising.

    To put that another way:

    If I owned a restaurant, and then created a bumper sticker for my company car that says "Eat at Joe's" and on that bumper sticker is Joe's address and phone number, I just advertised for them of my own free will. In effect, that's what hotlinking does.

    To make it infringement I would have to use something of Joe's that is copyrighted in order to advertise MY OWN restaurant.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    DJ, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 12:54pm

    Re: I am a theavin a##hole

    That's funny!

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Jon B., Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    James, just because you keep saying that doesn't make it true.

    You do know how HTML works, right?

     

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  22.  
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    hah, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:00pm

    just change the image to porn

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:12pm

    These are the people who voted for Obama.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Re:

    You're reading stuff here aren't you?

     

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  25.  
    identicon
    Valkor, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "In many ways, hotlinking is similar to free advertising."

    Perhaps true, but in many ways that are more important it is not similar. a) It is frequently the case that there is nothing going on that could be interpreted as "advertising". If there is not any indication of what is being advertised or how to support what is being advertised, then it's not advertising. b) If you're paying for the bandwidth, it's not free advertising either.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:28pm

    Re: Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    I wonder if they are indeed the same thing, then why do we have two separate names/terms for the actions?

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:29pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Zing!

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Jon B., Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    Because when people use colloquial terms for technical things, those terms aren't always accurate?

    Some people call their computer their "hard drive".

    the only difference is that an inline image loads automatically, while you click on a hyperlink. Other than that, it's the same behind the scenes - the browser loads Bob's image through Bob's server, and Joe's server is none the wiser.

    Also, Ask.com, Digg.com, and google image search all use "framing" when you click on a search result. Another term that still means the same thing, just presented a different way. Are they suddenly "stealing" as well?

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Jason, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Duh, he says right up there in the blurb that he's an expert!

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    james, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 1:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    I've been working with HTML for 10 years and know the difference between calling a resource from the local server and a remote server. I've just checked Wikipedia and see that my definition and understanding of hotlinking are indeed technically correct.

    However, to my utter shock, it seems the Ninth Circuit has a different interpretation of the implications of hotlinking on copyrighted material than do I. To them, it's not the publisher that is doing the infringing (though they are a facilitator) but it is the browser that is doing the infringing. OK, that's like saying that you didn't kill that guy, it was the firing pin in the gun you were holding that caused the bullet to splatter is brain all over the wall.

    If Wikipedia is to be believed, then Coca-Cola can in fact hotlink to one of my images without breaking my copyright because it is your browser that's doing the infringing.

    Even though the end result is the same, that my image shows up in your site, it's OK if you are hotlinking to it, but not OK if you copy it to your own server. Either way, my image is displayed in your site... That makes no sense to me.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 2:04pm

    Hmm, my neighbors just moved away, and the electric company shut off power to their house. I was powering stuff in my garden shed off their circuit. I oughta sue 'em and get a big cash settlement, since I'll now have to pay for the electricity myself.

    Genius.

     

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  32.  
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    Steven (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You have a failed understanding of the way the internet works.

    A hotlink means that in my page I place a description of the image in question:



    Your browser downloads that text from my server. Your browser then goes out and gets the image, and places it into the page. At no time did the image ever exist in any way on my server, nor did I ever copy, republish, or even access the image.

    As a page designer I don't even know for sure if your browser will go and get the image. Some browsers don't (text browsers like links), while it's easy to turn off image loading in nearly every browser.

    Not to mention it was your server that created the copy. The browser simply asked your server to give it a copy, your server could have refused, but your server, as configured by you, chose to give that file to the browser.

     

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  33.  
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    Steven (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 3:34pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Crap. That big white space was an example of an image link. I think it actually rendered an image link. I hope the guys at server.com don't sue me for hotlinking to http://your.server.com/images/coolImage.png

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Big Al, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 3:57pm

    Re: I am a theavin a##hole

    isn't that what goatse is for?

     

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  35.  
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    tim, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 4:19pm

    link versus hotlink

    the code is simple... link: Picture hotlink: The link does not affect the creator of the material as it is just taking you to that site directly. the hotlink, though it is not stealing the image, is still requiring that the creator provide free bandwidth to you. That is what is wrong here. If the image is part of a trademark or causes brand confusion then I could see an issue with it.

     

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  36.  
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    tim (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 4:25pm

    Re: link versus hotlink

    the hotlink

     

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  37.  
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    tim (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 4:27pm

    Re: Re: link versus hotlink

    ok so apparently i can't put the img src code here :)

     

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  38.  
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    athe (profile), Jun 17th, 2009 @ 6:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    Simple solution - if it's copyrighted material and you don't want people infringing via so called hotlinking, then take a little extra time and setup some security on your site that disallows this kind of thing.

    If you can't be bothered to go that little extra to protect your content the way you want it to be protected, get over it.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 17th, 2009 @ 7:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yet another example of entitlement

    changing the URL every once in a while should help.

     

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  40.  
    identicon
    E_B_A, Jun 18th, 2009 @ 8:21am

    I'm the guy...

    I'm the guy who received the e-mails. My images were being hotlinked, and when I moved them, he threatened to sue me for moving them, even though I was in the process of shutting down that site altogether.

    So let me break this down in a way you will understand.

    Bandwidth is like electricity.

    I use this "electricity" to power my website. What bandwidth really is in this case is the connection between a computer and my site to download my content. That includes images, pages, media like mp3's and flash, etc.

    Now, along comes someone who likes my photographs I take the time as a personal hobby to create, edit, touch-up and upload to my own personal site. This person plugs their website up to mine and starts putting my direct copy onto their pages.

    See, in a "remote link," I download the image to my own computer, re-upload it to my site, then place a link to the author of that work on my page. This doesn't use the "electricity" that is my bandwidth.

    In hotlinking, I am not downloading the image at all. It's still on my server. I include the address to that image from my server in my own page. So when the image loads, it's using my "electricity." So in effect, I'm stealing electricity from someone else, for the sake of this analogy.

    Web hosts, like electrical companies, charge for this "electricity."

    Now, that aside, some of you seem to have me painted as the bad guy here.

    Let me clarify something for you.

    I never contacted him first, even though he was stealing from me. He contacted me.

    He contacted me and told me that since he couldn't steal from me anymore, he was going to sue until I allowed him to steal from me again.

    Of course, on my new server, all my images are watermarked and I use .htacess to disallow any host other than hosts I prefer to hotlink for my own purposes.

    I never made a big deal out of any of this. I was genuinely scared I was going to get sued because I didn't want to deal with that hassle. Life is complicated enough without having to defend yourself, even if you've done nothing wrong.

    If you, for one second, think that I'm in the wrong for this scenario, you need to have your head examined. And you also need an education.

     

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  41.  
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    Almost Anonymous (profile), Jun 18th, 2009 @ 9:16am

    Re: I'm the guy...

    For the most part, very well said. I can't say I agree with the "stealing" part, but obviously you did nothing wrong and the "other guy" is a tool.

     

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  42.  
    identicon
    MattP, Jun 18th, 2009 @ 1:38pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I hope you just do the page design and hand off the psd to a developer then.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, Jun 18th, 2009 @ 6:03pm

    Hotlinking and lawsuits

    We are definitely mired down in the "me" generation - I doubt anything constructive can be done as long as that is the prevailing attitude.

     

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  44.  
    identicon
    Tom, Oct 4th, 2010 @ 5:06am

    Re: ??

    What? He was saying it was a good thing that the lawyer dissuaded the client from pressing the lawsuit - but it would've been funny if he had.

     

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