Hotlinking – not as nice as it sounds

I’m sure most people are aware of this, but here it goes anyway. There are people on the web that, when they find an image on a website, just grab the web URL directly to the image and paste it into their forum/website/blog/whatever. This is called hotlinking, as you are not hosting it on your sites but stealing a bit of the bandwidth I pay for to show everyone my own images.

What that means is that there are an awful lot of people seeing some image on my site, but no one’s really seeing my site at all. I don’t get anything in the way of views, only that someone else uses my art/photos/images on their own page to get their own views.

Let’s talk JMW Turner. I’ve done a lot of art blogs, many on various historical pieces of art. Some time ago, I did a piece on the beautiful work Death on a Pale Horse (here). When looking through my server logs, I found plenty of people using that piece of art from my server in their own blogs, but no one at all linked back to me. The traffic dings my monthly allotment, but I don’t get anyone actually reading the content I created for it in the first place.

There are also plenty of places using my art as wallpapers, and just linking directly to my file on the server. Now, I do offer wallpapers of certain items, true. But I’d much rather they download them and use them personally, and if they must show off then throw me a bone and send the person over to my site to check it out.

This is a bit different than, say, saving the image and then uploading it to your own server, then showing it. There is certainly a worthy discussion about not necessarily wanting people downloading my images, but I understand for promotion’s sake that it happens. That’s fine, in fact, in the long run, that may help me get more people.

But I don’t want a huge number of linked files bogging down my websites. Especially when I’m trying to get new art gigs and a new job, I just can’t have the sites be slow.

So, I’ve activated a hotlink protection ability on my server. Most hosts offer the ability to do that, so I’d check with your host and see what you can do if you’re interested. I can certainly pass on what I know too, if anyone’s interested.

The system now basically replaces a hotlinked item with a different image, one that I specifically call for. I have the ability to whitelist certain sites as needed, which I have for a few images that I host for others.

So, in the case of Turner, instead of this:

They see this:

And it went… wherever I did go.

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Russell Dickerson has been a lot of things over many years. Author, artist, designer, winner of awards and recognition, pursuer of the truth, leader of the earth after armageddon.


  1. One of the main problems comes from the Tumblr platform. For most images, you click “photo” and upload the image. But if you want to title the post and include an image along with a lot of text (click the “Text” option) you have no choice but to hotlink the image.

    I think the explosive popularity of the Tumblr interface could plausibly be leading to a resurgence of hotlinking activity.

  2. More than my own artwork, nearly all of the hotlinks from my site were people linking to the images in the art blogs I used to do. Sure, it’s just one here and there, but when there are a lot of those it adds up quickly. I didn’t really find many of my actual pieces linked to (other than a wallpaper here and there), so this should work out fine. We’ll see though.

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