Are 'deep links' theft?

I confess to taking a 'conservative' position on free audio downloads. So I have always felt somewhat uneasy about my frequent use of 'deep linked' images On An Overgrown Path.

'Deep linked' (or 'hot linked') images mean that the pictures you see here are not copied by me from another web site, instead you are looking 'through' my page directly at the image on the host site. No copying is involved, and I retain no copy at all other than the web address at which the original is stored. But guidelines on this practice are not clear, and there is a fairly good chance that technically it may breach copyright.

In the past fifteen months I have 'deep linked' to many images, and now always credit the source of the image. Several artists I have contacted have had no objections, and were pleased for the exposure, accepting that if their work was put on the web it would be used by other sites. I have had just the one objection in the form of the rude message displayed above in place of the linked image. Knightmare is a BBC TV children's series made by Broadsword Television. Ironically the image of Castle Acre Priory I linked to in fact originally appears to have come from English Heritage, a publicly funded body! I quote from the Knightmare web site - 'Thanks to Jason Nankoo for sending the following taken from the English Heritage Visitors' Handbook (1999-2000):'

So am I wrong in 'deep linking'? Is it image theft? Am I an intellectual property thief just like the file sharers? Should I stop putting 'deep linked' images On An Overgrown Path?

Guidance and views please....

Image credit - Knightmare
Report broken links, missing images, and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
If you found this post informative take An Overgrown Path to
Music downloading as a terrorist offence?


Tim Worstall said…
Hot linking is discouraged because you are taking someone else’s bandwidth.

Copying the image really is theft.

Not sure if there is an actual answer other than not to useother’s images.
Pliable said…
I appreciate the guidance Tim, but am not sure that I follow.

How can I be stealing someone else's bandwidth when all I am doing is using it for the purpose it was put there - accessing their image?

What is the difference between an image link and a text link? - they both use a third party's bandwidth.
Anonymous said…
Tim is right - the issue is largely one of bandwidth. There are two main problems. By displaying someone else's image on your site, you are displaying it divorced from its original context. This almost certainly doesn't apply to your use of images, but imagine if someone's photograph of their black friend or child was used in a racist and defamatory context on a neo-Nazi website.

Second, people have to pay for bandwidth, and your site might (probably does!) have much higher traffic than theirs. In the worst case, if your site has a massive spike in traffic, they might get a huge bill. The situation isn't under their control, nor do they get any direct benefits from people visiting their site (which might bring in ad revenue, prestige, or whatever).

The difference between text links and deep links of images is that in the first case, their page isn't loaded every time your page loads (so no bandwidth use unless someone actually follows the link), and when the link is followed, the visitor sees the content in the original context. Plus the site owner gets any side benefits of those visitors, rather than you.

To cut a long story short, the etiquette is never to deep link, unless it is specifically sanctioned (as is the case with flickr). The image replacement from Knightmare is actually quite polite - some people substitute very unpleasant images for deep linkers.
Anonymous said…
Pliable linked to an image on my wife's sculpture site in this manner, and of course we were grateful, despite any etiquette issue others may have with the practise.

The bandwidth question is valid, however I disagree that the Knightmare tack was "quite polite". "Relatively polite", perhaps. "Nice try, image thief" is both presumptuous and unnecessarily rude.

The use of technology to override the link is sufficient. As for the message, how about, "Please do not link directly to our images. Thank you."

Always be a mensch.
jfl said…
Hot-linking is always legal but rude, Copying and self-posting is polite but illegal. Chances are that the technical illegality of the latter would not stand in court, even in Timbuktu... so it is better to be polite than careful. Apart from the mentioned bandwidth issue, you also have control over the images, less trouble with dead links and faster load-times.
Anonymous said…
AFAIAA hot linking means publishing on your site without permission an image (or other material) belonging to another. So yes, it is certainly a breach of copyright - rude and illegal.

It is after all easy enough to ask the site owner for permission (and IME few will demur).
Pliable said…
Quite amusingly the words Nice try, image thief have been removed from the Knightmare message since this post was uploaded.

'Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.'

Arthur Schopenhauer
Anonymous said…
Oddly enough, I found your site because you used a cartoon of Bach I'd drawn. Since you asked, I prefer that people ask for permission to use my work, or at least notify me that they're using it and give me the opportunity to object. That said, I like your blog quite a bit, and saw that you credited and linked back to me, so no problem here. If you use something in the future, just let me know. It's not uncommon for my clients to buy the exclusive right to an image, the only exception to which is that it can appear in my online portfolio. In a case like that, I'd have to ask you to find something else. I'm sure this is the case for many other illustrators and photographers.
Anonymous said…
I think you might have the redeeming feature of at least citing your sources which, according to an site on Blogs and Copyright, indicate that you have a stronger "fair use" defense than others who simply lift the entire piece with nary a word about where it first appeared (and, hence, giving the impression that it was their own 'intellectual property'). You also added some commentary which can be construed as an intent to "fair use". The expert on intellectual property and the web (an Aussie lawyer) seemed to think that you are, at worse, likely to get a polite request to remove something from your blog rather than a virtual goat's heart nailed to your door and threats of financial ruin.

Another shufti on copyright and obituaries came up with references on about such things being, indeed, protected by copyright because the newspapers consider them their intellectual property as they usually do the assemblage of the facts into readable text (though it escapes me how one can point to "He was an avid bowler" as something they should voraciously protect from unwarranted use). But at the end of the day, they haven't the time to even look for infringement problems, let alone prosecute them. I think it is lax here in the States since anyone can imagine that obits are photocopied and distributed widely without someone buying additional newspapers and providing the paper with the requisite 'royalties'.

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