Monday, October 10, 2005

copy cats / hotlinking

There once was a little girl from Munich who thought that the world is just good, free of evil. One day she came up with her own blog and designed using her creative imagination, making sure no other designer would feel betrayed or pirated... OK, long story short the world isn't only good, there are copy cats and hotlinkers out there, stealing one's (not only mine) thoughts and ideas. Through my job background (both legal and creative) I'm to an extend involved in copyrights. The very second you publish something online, it's out of one's control what happens with the online content (irrespective any possible legal implications/actions).

Here is now what we have noticed, via our referrer log entries (doesn't hurt to check them every now and then): two sites, despite our legal disclaimer hotlinked to our images, without any references whatsoever, using it for their own "marketing".

Hotlinking is not really easy to counteract as all three (if there are more, pls let me know!!) methods: cookies, scripts and/or .htaccess control have drawbacks that potentially prohibit access for totally legit users (who are using firewalls, proxies etc.) - for the time being, this work-around at least gives us a good chuckle... ;) (ie. copied and renamed our own image, modified the linked-to one in a pretty ugly way):

Another interesting find this week was: (even if this is a staging environment, they should have at least used a password mechanism, or a no-robots directive to avoid indexing by google...)

A good site/source for concerning "pirated sites":

What is up with people? Can't they have the decency to at least credit ones work? I can only bring up little to no respect for them... If they don't have enough inspiration for a good design themselves, hey, there are people out there who can do it for you (and yes, they actually will take money for this job)... ;)

I'm curious, has it happened to you? What are you doing about it?

This post was written by Nicky from delicious:days


Kevin said...


So how'd you do the embedded messages in the photos?

Elise said...

Regarding photos, every week or so I check through my referral logs and see who is linking to me. I usually pull up two or three sites who are using a photo from Simply Recipes without mentioning or linking to the site. I don't mind the photo linking if it is in reference to an entry on my site, with a link to the entry. But often it isn't. In these cases I change the name of the file both on my server and on the entry page. This way, on the hotlinker's site they just get a big fat question mark instead of a photo.

I have also had several people copy the web design from either Simply Recipes or Learning Movable Type. In these cases, I've sent an email, asking them not to do it and gently reminded them that the design is copyright protected, which it is. In each of these cases the "thief" claimed to have no idea that borrowing designs like this was uncool and potentially illegal as well. In one case I suggested that the guy just change the color; that way it wouldn't look like my site and I wouldn't care.

I think most of the activity like this comes from people being lazy.

Robyn said...

First off, I usually try to give credit when I "steal" and image from somewhere else; whether it be from flickr or anywhere else. However, I am not sure that it is always laziness that drives some of the forms of copying that is seen. It could be lack of "how to" do it one's self. For example for the "Think pink" thread inspired by La Dolce Vita, I couldn't make a pink ribbon, I grabbed her image, placed it on my site, and of course it has lost its transparent background. I will endeavor to learn how to do this stuff on my own, but I don't necessarily want to stop myself from posting because I can't make an image. It's kind of like seeing a quote that's good and then posting it on your site without saying you saw it there, or even a nod or hat tip as a courtesy. Kindness goes a long way.

I would never try to say something was mine that isn't. I also would beat the drums very heavily if I encountered someone's use of another's image for commerce without permission. I agree that credit or compensation must be given. If not it is stealing.

A question: How does one embed photos as you guys mention. And how do you detect if someone is using your stuff. This happened to another blogger I know - they were copying her entire blog under a different name. Is googling text or images the only way?

Anonymous said...

I had a gingerbread man photo that was hotlinked by hundreds of xanga, myspace and bulletin board posters during the Christmas season. I replaced the image file with an image of an anatomically correct gingerbread man. I realized I had turned many innocent 12-year-old girls' sites into adult sites. Feeling bad, I switched it back.

A restaurant in the south hotlinked to a breakfast photo of mine, so I replaced it with an image of doodoo on a plate. I got an email saying they were going to sue me if I didn't fix it.

These are examples of completely clueless hotlinking, either by reason of innocence or ignorance. My real worry is the explosion of commercial blogging is creating a breeding ground of 'content creators' who mantain 5-10 blogs for advertising profit by copying others' original content. They're usually smart enough to know not to hotlink when they steal. I've contacted a few of these "professionals" but can do little to punish them besides excluding them from my food blog list.

Cybele said...

The thing is that people are lazy.

I've said in the about section of my site if they want a photo, I'll be happy to give them permission.

I detest hot-linking and when I find it, I just move the file or rename it and fix my blog entry to reflect that so the link isn't broken.

I was rather peeved that a weblogs inc site used one of my photos - though they linked to my site, they didn't say that I took the photo. But, they did host it themselves.

I'm curious how some of the embedded watermark stuff works when you do site feeds.

Sam said...

well - here is one advantage of blogger
they allow you to post your pics for free
and they dont allow hotlinking
hows that?

ps i love hearing Paul's story abut the restaurant who wanted to sue him.

Techer or student said...

I also copied the pink ribbon from la dolce vita and used it in my post about the pink foods. Honestly it never occured to me that it would not be ok to do that, so I hope it is.

Anonymous said...

Yikes. I have a blog for my fourth grace class. It's really fun to see what they post to each other. Anyway, I didn't realize I was logged in to their blog when I wrote that last comment so the signature came out as teacher or student. Mystery solved.

Jennifer Maiser said...

kalyn, can we see the blog of the fourth graders? or is it private?

Sam said...

i dont think anyone in this commmunity has a problem with us using each others photos and logos for online community events because we alyways credit the OP and we are promoting the event, plus I never hotlink when I do this - I actually reload the pics onto my own server.

I have never had one complaint, but then I only ever use pictures to promote the site of the blog I am featuring so I don't think anyone minds.

if they did - i think they would have told me by now???

Anonymous said...

I think I’m so sensitive to the whole copyright issue, since I have to deal with it on a regular basis at work. An excuse I don't accept however, is the lazyness of people - I see it more as adorning oneself with borrowed plumes. The example of the pink ribbon (or any other meme-button) doesn't really count, since these have always been used in their original intended context (with reference to the source) - which is a great example of how it actually should work :)

On a high level, people/companies pursue different objectives. The ones who (want to) make money with their websites (1) and the ones maintaining their sites for personal fun (2).

To 1: If you earn money through the net, you should at least know how to play by the rules. There are strict laws out there, which don’t care if you fully knew you were pursuing a copyright infringement or not.

To 2: Of course (1) also goes for this group. But furthermore, as the sole purpose is personal fun, one should take the time and produce original content. When reusing content/images from others, it should be clear that (even without stating it explicitly) they have copyrights on their creations. It doesn't cost anything to ask if you may re-use it (without hotlinking!) or - at least - credit the original source. It’s as simple as that.

I’m aware, that many people don’t compare stealing something tangible like a CD at a music store with copying (or hotlinking) a photography/layout/illustration on the internet. However, as soon as you talk about physical goods people would say, "...but of course this is stealing...", so why should it be any different for electronic work products vs. something physically created - the amount of time you invest to get the job done is the same. It seems that the common notion is still that everything on the Internet is free...

as i wrote above, you just copy the original hotlinked image, rename it and use this one with the new name in you blog. The other (with the original file name) you modify with e.g. Photoshop etc. and upload it, the hotlinked picture now shows the new design.

There is no limit to human stupidity, isn’t there? Your story of the restaurant wanting to sue you is priceless!

I fully agree, that's the way is should be :)
ps: indeed, very handy feature of blogger. but i do just love wordpress too much to move to Blogger...

Provided you have access to your webserver log files or at least see an html representation of the report, you can find entries under the referrer section. It basically shows a foreign website accessing specific images on your blog.

Andrew said...

If a weblogs inc site (slashfood?) used one of your photos (was it a post of mine?) but didnt mention it was taken by you drop them an email. If it was me I probably just forgot to put a [Photo By Cyble] link. But then if the picture is referred to in the post then I think it comes under just use of copyright or something.

Farmgirl Susan said...

Thanks for writing this post. When someone recently left me a comment asking if they could use some of my photos on their blog, I had no idea how to respond and went over to Delicious Days because I remembered your disclaimer.

And I stole it. (But not any photos! : )

I don't know if my question should be a separate post, so I'll put it here first and see if I get any responses.

I have had many people suggest that I publish the photos on my blog, Farmgirl Fare, in a book. I also have possible ideas for postcard collections, etc.

On the other hand, I also have people telling me my photos are now their desktop background, hanging on their wall, etc. etc. (and these are only the ones actually admitting it to me).

I have heard that there is a way to "disable" right clicking on your photos so that people cannot copy them. While I kind of hate to do this (and am supremely flattered that people want my photos on their wall, etc.), I also feel that my photos are original art that I own (this from someone who spent years as a graphic designer creating logos, etc.). This obviously becomes more important if you consider the book aspect.

So, does anyone know how to do this? (the simplest way possible; I was SO lost by all your talk of changing hot links/referral logs/etc) Do you have any opinions about it? Do you think it will make people mad if I do it?


Jennifer Maiser said...

Farmgirl -

The problem that I find with the right click disable is that there are a lot of other tools that I use with a right-click that are disabled as well ... ie., open in a new tab/open in a new window/view source, etc. Personally, I find it frustrating when I find a page that has a right-click disable.

For your photos, I would suggest only posting photos at screen resolution (72 dpi), and at a limited size. The pictures are going to come out fairly crappy if someone really tries to do much with them, and they will be more apt to buy a high-resolution copy from you.

I never post photos at my original resolution so that if there is ever a big dispute (doubtful) I can prove that a photo is rightfully mine by the sheer fact that I have a shot with higher resolution.

Techer or student said...

Jennifer, I would not want to post the fourth grade blog url here because who knows who reads this. But if any fellow bloggers want to e-mail me I can send it to you. The kids have only been doing it a little over a week, but they are pretty into it. Especially the comments. I hear them saying, "I will comment on your post if you will comment on my post." It's pretty cute. A few kids are even posting photos from home.

Anonymous said...

Hi Susan,

I'll take this one for Nicky, as she has left for her day job ;)...

By the way, I can totally see why people would use your photos as a backdrop for their displays, they're gorgeous :)

I fully agree with Jennifer, I don't think anyone could use your online images for the print world - the resolution would just not be high enough. So this still leaves you and only you with all the options for postcards, books etc.

For "electronic" (ab)use it's different: I would not worry much if people had images as their desktop backgrounds, screen savers etc. but I'd be more concerned if they used them to market and promote their blog (without any reference to you) - whether it'd be for commercial or personal reasons.

Also, disabling right clicking really doesn't help at all, other than it's likely perceived as an annoying side effect - and ultimately may be counterproductive for people reading your blog, I would think. The photos or images would not be additionally protected by doing so (you can always do screenshots or if more technically savvy, one can look at the HTML source code and copy the URL of the photo in question).

Anonymous said...

Also, right clicking protection is pretty useless against Mac users, (although no Mac user would ever steal).

An easier, but also not completely secure option is to use the css trick of placing an image on a page by using a div tag of fixed dimensions, with the image set in css as the background. The image can not be grabbed off the page and the path to the image isn't available without looking in the css file. Some art sites take this a step farther by using what's called an 'include' to further obscure the filename. It's enough to discourage the typical xanga/myspace user but not worth the trouble for every post unless you really want to protect something from widescale use.

Anonymous said...

In case someone wants to know how to do the trick I just mentioned, view the source of:

Good luck!

emma said...

Hi Everyone
I am completely confused - and more than a little nervous - having read this thread! I am very, very new to all this - I just started Modern Girls Kitchen ( and I've uploaded a few of my photos. As I also do some professional photography I haven't necessarily used "good" images on my site - I tend to keep those for sale etc. However, I also just got a Flickr account to store some of my images - and I'm now worried about that too! Yikes!
I have two questions - first, I use blogger and I can't see where to find the log that will show me whether people have been linking/stealing from my site. Second, since my html knowledge is limited (though growing daily), what about using something like Digimarc, which you can use in conjunction with Photoshop? It's a paid sub but you can "watermark" your photos with a copyright and I believe that it tracks the use of that photo and when/where it's downloaded. I'm looking into it but maybe someone else is familiar with it?
I'd love any advice/help!
Thank you!
Emma (Modern Girls Kitchen)

Rose said...

I'm very curious about "watermarking" (though I think my photos are blah, it'd still be useful), too.

Does anyone know how this is done (thru software or a service)?

L Vanel said...

In Google type: "image:" (without the quotes) to get a list of any sites that are hotlinking your graphics.

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