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 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.

Filed Under: ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

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

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: 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.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: 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.)

james (user link) says:

Re: 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.

Jebrew (profile) says:

Re: 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.

james says:

Re: 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.

Steven (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

tim (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 link versus hotlink

the code is simple…



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.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Valkor says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Justin says:


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?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

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.

Sandra Smallie says:

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!

Jon B. says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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,,, 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?

james says:

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.

athe (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Rob (profile) says:

“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.

E_B_A (user link) says:

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.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...