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BuffyGuide.com — The Complete Buffy Episode Guide
For Webmasters
Article: Bandwidth Theft / Direct Linking



Note: This page talks about images, but it applies to other files as well, such as sound/video files, etc.

What is direct linking?
What should I do instead of direct linking?
      Putting images on your website
      Posting on a forum
Why is direct linking such a no-no?
What about unlimited bandwidth?
Give credit for images used.
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Many webmasters don't mind if you use some of the images on their site, within reason, assuming that they are not copyrighted and that you give credit. However, it is very important that you do not direct link to images on someone else's server (site). This is called bandwidth theft, and it can cost the webmaster in question money.

What is direct linking?   Direct linking is when you display an image from one site on a different site (such as on your own site, or on a forum or blog). If the site you are direct linking to is yours, there is nothing wrong with this. But if you are direct linking to a site that is not yours, it is bandwith theft (also called hot linking/hotlinking, remote linking, remote loading, or leeching). For example, if you post one of our images like this: <img src="http://www.buffyguide.com/images/image.jpg"> — that's direct linking. Or if you make a post in a forum that allows image use, and you include one of our images like this: [img]http://www.buffyguide.com/images/image.jpg[/img] — that's direct linking. Basically, if buffyguide.com appears in the image URL, you're direct linking to an image on our server. (Or, if imdb.com appears in the URL, you're direct linking to an image on IMDb's site. If geocities.com/someoneelse appears in the URL, you're direct linking to an image on someone else's Geocities site. You get the idea.)

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What should I do instead of direct linking?   This depends on whether you have your own webspace or not.

  • If you have your own website or webspace: The key is saving the image to your own computer, and then uploading it to your own site.
    • If you want to use an image on your website, you first need to save the image to your computer. You can do this by right-clicking on the image and choosing "Save Picture As" (Explorer) or "Save Image As" (Firefox). Then, you'll need to upload the image to your website, in the same way that you upload your other pages and files. Finally, include the image on your page as you normally would, such as: <img src="http://www.YOURSITE.com/images/image.jpg"> or <img src="images/image.jpg">

    • If you're posting on a forum (or similar) and you want to put an image in your post or your profile, and you have a website of your own, you can save the image, upload it to your site, and then include the image in your post/profile by using the image URL on your site, such as: [img]http://www.YOURSITE.com/images/image.jpg[/img]

  • If you do not have your own website or webspace:

  • You have two choices - get some free web space to host pictures on, or link to the page the image is on instead of directly to the image itself.

    • Get some web space of your own to host images on:

      If you want free hosting, keep one thing in mind: Most free hosts will not allow direct linking, and will display their company logo instead of your image (or just a broken image icon). So if you get your own web space on Yahoo! Geocities, for example, and you try to post an image on a forum or blog, it will not work. Generally speaking, an all-purpose free host that does not actively point out that they do allow direct linking probably does not. You will have better luck with sites that specialize in free image hosting. Here are a few free hosts that will (as of this writing) allow direct linking to images: Village Photos - Photobucket.com - FileHigh - ImageCave - ImageShack - ImageHosting.us - PicsPlace.to - MyOnlineImages.com. For more ideas, search Google for "free image hosting".

      If you want to kick it up a notch and get some paid hosting (which will typically get you more disk space, more bandwidth, the ability to FTP to your site, the ability to host a complete web site, email service, possibly your own domain name, the ability to direct link to your own images from another site, and more), check out my recommendations here.

    • If you don't want to get your own web space, you need to do the next best thing — instead of direct linking to the image itself (including the image directly in your post), place a LINK to the PAGE the image is on. This way, at least the site gets something in return for the bandwidth used — people who click on your link will see the image you intended, as well as seeing their site, and any applicable advertisements. Since the advertisements offset the costs of the bandwidth, this is more fair and acceptable. What this means for you is that instead of copying the direct image URL (such as http://www.buffyguide.com/images/image.jpg, you need to copy the URL of the page you saw the image on (such as http://www.buffyguide.com/gallery.php3?img=images/cast/amber/amber01.jpg or http://www.buffyguide.com/players/buffy.shtml. You can easily copy the page URL from your browser's address bar. Then, you should be able to use markup to create a link to the URL, such as [url]http://www.buffyguide.com/gallery.php3?img=images/cast/amber/amber01.jpg[/url].

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Why is direct linking such a no-no?   There are a few reasons. Some of them are more important from your point of view, and some are more important from the point of view of the site owner you're stealing from.

  • Bandwidth Theft is the big reason for the person you're stealing from. Bandwidth is basically data transferred from one computer to the next. When you loaded this page, it used some bandwidth by sending the data from my server to your computer. It's sort of like electricity — when you turn on a light, it uses electricity. When you view a web page or image, download a sound file, or access any other file on the internet, it uses bandwidth. (Click here for further explanation on what bandwidth is.)

    For some sites, bandwidth is free. Many sites on the internet are small, and are hosted by free web hosts. These hosts do limit the amount of bandwidth the sites can use, but most sites don't use enough bandwidth to ever exceed this limit, so they never have to pay for bandwidth. So, your theft of their bandwidth won't cost them money, but if other sites direct link to their files, they might go over their bandwidth limit, and get kicked off their host!

    Moreover, large/busy sites cannot be hosted by free web hosts — these webmasters have to pay for web hosting. Generally, they pay a set amount per month which will include a set amount of bandwidth. (The more bandwidth your account allows, the more your monthly fee will be.) Plus, if a site uses more than the allowed amount of bandwidth in any given month, they have to pay extra fees, which can be very high. So, sites direct linking to their files will cause their total bandwidth to go up, and may cost them money!

    If your neighbor secretly ran an extension cord to your electric outlet to run his appliances, this would be stealing your electricity, and your electric bill would go up — you'd be paying to keep his house running, and you would NOT be pleased. This is much like bandwidth theft — if you direct link to an image on my server, it uses my bandwidth, and I have to pay the bill for your site! This is obviously not okay. And it's actually pointless, since most of the sites that direct link are small sites on free hosts, so it's not as if they need to save bandwidth — for them, it's free, but for some of us, it's very expensive!

  • Broken Images (or worse) is a reason not to direct link from your point of view. You have no control over files hosted on someone else's server, so you never know when your page might suddenly be full of broken images! The site you're linking from might move, or their server might go down, or they might delete/move/rename their images. Sometimes webmasters will even replace the stolen image with a different one to intentionally make you look silly/bad. (For example, they might replace an image of Britney Spears with one of a pig or of something pornographic, or they might replace it with an image stating "Bandwidth Thief!") If you save the files to your own server, nobody but you can touch them!

  • Longer Download Times is another reason. Telling a web browser to draw files from multiple servers can make your page take ages to load. When you link to servers other than your own, web browsers have to waste time that could have been spent downloading looking for the new server. This can really slow down or even halt the loading time of your own web page.

  • Consequences! If your misuse of the internet is costing someone else money, you can bet they're going to take issue with you! They may contact you demanding that you remove the files, they may delete or replace the files as mentioned above, they may go straight to your web host and have your site shut down, or they could even sue you. Why take the chance?

Here are some links if you'd like even more information:
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What about unlimited bandwidth?   If you've hosted a website or looked around at web hosts, you might have heard the term "unlimited bandwidth." This does NOT exist — there is no such thing as unlimited. Think about it: if you could get unlimited bandwidth for around $20.00 a month or less, why wouldn't Yahoo or Microsoft be hosted there? Search the fine print in the terms and conditions — you'll find the secret limit there. Some say, "sites with more than 5 Gb of bandwidth per month do not qualify for the unlimited bandwidth offer." Some say, "no more than 25% of your bandwidth can come from images." Some appear to say nothing, but hide behind a generic "we restrict the right to terminate your account for any reason," and when the site's bandwidth use gets to high, the account is terminated without warning and the site is shut down. I could rant on for quite a while about the "unlimited bandwidth" lie and what I think of hosts that use it, but instead I'll give you a few links:

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Giving Credit for Images Used   If you use any images from someone else's site (or any other content), credit (with link) is the proper etiquette. They put their time into collecting, scanning, modifying, designing, getting screen caps, etc., which saves you time, so this isn't unreasonable. If you have a "Credits" page, the credit can appear on that page. Otherwise, the credit should appear on the page(s) using the images. If you're using images on a variety of pages, you can put the credit on your main (home) page or on an applicable section entry page (for example, if you're using a selection of images in your image galleries, then you could put the credit on the main image gallery entrance page). Credit should look something like (using this site as an example):

Some images provided by <a href="http://www.buffyguide.com" target="_top">BuffyGuide.com</a>.

OR

Images courtesy of <a href="http://www.buffyguide.com" target="_top">BuffyGuide.com</a>.

Note: Make sure you take note of any site's specific requirements before taking images or any other files/content! Some may have a "want, take, have" policy, while others may require that you ask permission first, and still others may forbid the use of their stuff at all, either because it's copyrighted or because they just don't want to share. Respect their wishes! If you can't find their stance on this on their site, send them an email and ask!

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If you're in the market for webhosting, we recommend FutureQuest for the absolute best hosting experience out there, or DreamHost for a solid, lower cost alternative.

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