Hotlinking: when is credit due, and how much?

My former high school speech club coach Mike Daisey was “busted” by a blogger for hotlinking to one of the images on her blog- and Mike responded with a reasoned rebuttal.

At first glance you’d probably side with Martha, the blogger whose image Mike re-posted on his site. But that’s why it’s often fun to get deeper into an issue- because that’s where the complexity lies. See, the image Mike linked to wasn’t one of Martha’s own creation, nor is it owned by her. She- keeper of the blog “Your Daily Art“- was meerely linking to a famous painting, available on innumerable other websites (not to mention offline places) throughout the world.

So in linking to the image from her site, Mike makes two arguments in his defense. The first, which I don’t tend to agree with on principle, is that there should be no problem for Martha since his site receives “modest” traffic and hence isn’t likely to cause any realisticaly negative effects on Martha’s website or life (negative effects might include bandwith overage charges; largely irrelevant here since Martha’s site is hosted on Blogger UPDATE: Per the comments below, Martha’s husband Jerry alerts me to the fact that her site is not hosted on Blogger, but on their own web space. My regrets for the error).

Mike’s second argument, which rings much truer in this case (in large part because it’s not conditional) asserts that he wasn’t stealing per se, since Martha’s original posting of the image (one she neither created nor owns) was no different than his own re-posting. Here, Mike’s defense that his site isn’t likely to cause any unfriendly bandwidth problems for Martha’s blog make sense, since in this scenario that appears to be the only potential wrong that could arise as a direct result of his hotlinking Martha’s image (or, more accurately, the image on Martha’s site).

The brunt of Mike’s defense:

It’s also patently absurd that once we’ve moved onto the web, and are living in an era when we put images there that can be instantly downloaded to any location on earth and duplicated digitally millions of times we’re arguing about credit. Not credit for creating the artwork, mind you, but “credit” for hosting–a shared act that every server on the WWW performs every day or you’d never be able to even read this site. Sure there are examples when folks can be linked to and cause massive traffic problems, but I doubt that’s happening today, and if it were a possibility I would exercise some natural diligence.

Perhaps the safest route is for Mike (or anyone in his position) to simply right-click, save the image, and serve it from his own website (or Flickr account?)

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