I am interested in hearing the community's thoughts about "in-line linking". That is, the act of embedding photo/video/written content into a particular website via code, such that a website can provide a frame to a host website's server content. See the Wikipedia article for a better explanation.

Is this practice a key component to the successful flow of information on the Internet, or is it unfair to the host who actually generated the content?

  • I just re-read your last paragraph. You have several questions here. Can you condense this? As well, can you explain more about your question Do you think it is unfair to the host who actually generated the content?
    – closetnoc
    Mar 29, 2016 at 15:27
  • I don't necessarily think that this question is for ProWebmasters since it would seem to attract many opinionated responses without a definite or certain answer. That being said there are many reasons why a webmaster would like to block such requests and disallow their content from being "hotlinked" which leads into cons of why you would like to hotlink content out of your control in the first place. Then again there are services that either provide this as a service or expect and allow you to hotlink the content (think CDNs, Image/Video upload sites).
    – Analog
    Mar 29, 2016 at 16:46
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    See also on Law Stack Exchange: Can you be accused of hotlinking/copyright violation if you use an iframe? Mar 29, 2016 at 16:46
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    @Analog There are some clear cases in which it is definitely not OK to hot link and some cases where a site encourages you to embed its content. There will be good answers to this question that are not based only on opinion, but which can be backed up by experience and case law. Mar 29, 2016 at 16:59
  • That is precisely why I included an example for both sides of the argument in my comment. Not being able to control the content in which you are hotlinking versus using services such as Image/Video hosts where they encourage you to embed. I have no doubt that there is sought out information on this topic, but my main concern is the phasing of the question as "community thoughts" or "fairness" which I believe would lead to opinionated answers based on morals and not fact.
    – Analog
    Mar 29, 2016 at 17:12

5 Answers 5


No, it's not OK, unless you have permission to do so from the content owner and host. It wastes resources and if it's an image meant to be seen on a page, it wastes potential conversions (+ credit) that the other site should be getting.

Eventually you may start to see scary things that can terminate your hosting plan, such as naked people in place of the image you're expecting to receive from the site you're hotlinking. Think, most hosts don't allow porn, therefore it's an efficient way to curb hotlinkers, report them, and see the site go offline. And don't ever use someone else's scripts/CSS, else this may happen, causing a similar bad experience for your users, Googlebot, etc: evil.js. Bonus: MIME spoofing that script as image could be awesome, but I don't think its possible.

So anyways, let's say you are the owner of a site being hotlinked, what do you do? In my opinion it's not a good idea to whitelist sites allowed to use owners images, unless they really know all the good guys like Google images and the social network asset domains. Instead, use a blacklist to stack em up as they break the rules. Considering the issue too is bandwidth, using an external image service will benefit the owner in case the offender (scraper) does not take the image down. So with that being said, here is an example whitelist snippet for .htaccess that uses an example rewrite image hosted on imgur. Put it below RewriteEngine On somewhere. Just keep stacking up TLDs you find, the subdomain doesn't matter:

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.+\.)?sandieezivy\.* [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.+\.)?lineair\.* [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.+\.)?pinsuggest\.* [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.+\.)?wx-wfgg\.* [NC,OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^http(s)?://(.+\.)?blogspot\.* [NC]
RewriteRule .*\.(JPE?G|jpe?g|GIF|gif|BMP|bmp|PNG|png)$ http://i.imgur.com/3avdDY5.png [L]

As you can see this color is quite eye catching. The source image should be as huge as you can make it so it's very clear in popups and things. Just put your domain in the bottom.

Example hotlink mask image

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    "Naked people" is mild as risks go. Would you care to have shock-site imagery showing up on your website?
    – Mark
    Mar 29, 2016 at 20:10
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    @Mark Hah yeah man, I hear ya, there are some nasty pics out there that could scar users far away from that site.
    – dhaupin
    Mar 29, 2016 at 20:43
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    Here's a classic example of how cartoonist The Oatmeal took revenge on the Huffington Post after they hotlinked one of his cartoons. It didn't involve anything unpleasant, just some server trickery to deliver a very pointed message: theguardian.com/media/2015/oct/28/… Mar 30, 2016 at 13:03
  • @user568458 That is pretty hilarious! Why would a news company that big be serving pics from other peoples servers to begin with? Hopefully they learned their lesson there. I edited the answer with an example blacklist snippet and pic of how we do it "safe for work" style.
    – dhaupin
    Mar 30, 2016 at 14:10

I've seen some very embarrassing/hocking examples of hotlinking payback/revenge which caused users to be banned from the forums they had posted a hotlink in.

To go more into detail for some who may not realize exactly what was meant from previous answers and for those who'd be dumb enough to hotlink from a place that doesn't want you to hotlink:

Say you you hotlink "www.rabbits,com/data/cutebunny.jpg" which is an actual high res picture of a cute rabbit to a forum somewhere that gets a LOT of traffic. Now the website you are hotlinking from is paying for all the bandwidth the users on your forum are sucking up looking at the photo.

The guy getting hotlinked sees his bandwidth skyrocket but he isn't getting hits on his site and people are not seeing his ads.. He decides it is payback time. He renames cutebunny.jpg to cutebunny1.jpg and updates his page to continue showing the cute rabbit. However he now downloads a photo from sweatybearmanlove.com , names it cutebunny.jpg and sticks it in his data folder (but not linked to any page on HIS site). Now the next time someone views your hotlinked cutebunny.jpg they are going to see something they may never forget at best. Next thing you know you have a reputation for looking at that stuff - and worse sharing it on innocent people and you get an instant lifetime ban from the place you posted the hotlink..

I've seen it happen to people. I mostly believe they deserved what happened to them. Don't hotlink unless it's a site meant to be hotlinked from. Otherwise you are stealing bandwidth and ad views.

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    Of course, this could backfire if someone then sends a link to your copy of the inappropriate image to your web host along with a complaint that you're using their server space to host images that go against their terms and conditions... A redirect to an image on a third-party image hosting site would be safer Mar 30, 2016 at 14:19
  • I've seen this happen but often the replacement image is just a black image with white text stating 'this media was stolen / used without permission from example.com'. Definitely do not want to host content that is inappropriate but to the point.
    – Alex R
    Mar 31, 2016 at 0:23

Linking to resources on another site such as images is generally frowned upon unless the site that hosts the images intends for this to happen.

The reason for this is simple. It can take a lot of network bandwidth away from the site owner for your gain.

You have to be careful that you are not using copyrighted resources without permission. If you have permission, most people copy the resource to their own site.

There are sites that do intend for you to link directly to the resource and give permission to do so often with an Acceptable Use Policy or other governing policy or license. It is wise to check this out thoroughly before copying or linking to any resource.


It may interest you that the highest court in the European Union has ruled that hotlinking content is always legal, except if the content isn't publicly accessible at the site where it its hosted. (For example, if the content is behind a paywall.)

This doesn't mean that embedding third-party comes without risks, though. As @dhaupin mentions, a site can easily detect traffic comes from your site and deny access, or worse. And, as @closetnoc says, there is also the case of ethics: if you embed a third party site's content, you're burning through their bandwidth.

Furthermore, this may not be legal in non-EU countries.

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    Legal and morally right are not the same thing.
    – davidjwest
    Mar 30, 2016 at 11:31

I have some client sites for companies that will write you a very nasty letter to immediately remove those links and will sue you if don't remove them immediately.

You should presume any content on a site is already copyrighted or trademarked and that bad things can happen to you if you use them without permission.

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    Have any of those suits been successful? From a technical perspective, hotlinking something is not copying it, so copyright is irrelevant.
    – user253751
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:05
  • @immibis I don't get involved in that but I know things have happened. And there are also words thrown around like "theft of services" and other things I've forgotten. There were cases filed but no one ever had to go to court. These were big companies.
    – Rob
    Mar 30, 2016 at 0:41
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    @immibis Copying is not a requirement for a copyright violation. Use is. Hotlinking does violate copyright law in the U.S. and likely in most countries with copyright laws.
    – closetnoc
    Mar 30, 2016 at 15:12

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