The Dangers Of Malicious Hotlinking And Digital Piracy

Hotlinking Defined: Malicious "hotlinking" is theft of intellectual property that has been digitized for use on the Internet. One common form of hotlinking is copying html code from a website without authorization and uploading the code to a different website to achieve a nefarious goal.

The illegally copied html code may include URLs for:

  • Images (jpg, jpeg, gif, png files).
  • Logos (image files).
  • Audio and video files (mwv, flv, avi, mov, mp3, mp4, midi, rm, ram, mpeg1, mpeg2, etc.).
  • PDFs.
  • Product files (doc, pdf, exe or others cited above).
  • Downloads and other digital property (Zip files).

Hotlinkers do not "host" the stolen content on their servers. Rather, they "pull" the content from the owner's server, displaying it as though it were native content. The end result is that the owner's server is delivering content for a thief at the expense of the owner's bandwidth.

Entire sites can be "harvested" by hotlinking and copying html code, meaning the hotlinker can produce a keyword- and content-rich website simply by stealing code and placing it on a server he controls.

"Scraping" often is a form of hotlinking. Html can be stripped manually or robotically from Blogs and websites. Anything that exists within the scraped content — links to proprietary image and product files, for example — can be placed on the hotlinker's website as though it were his property.

This short video describes what happened when a thief hotlinked to logos, advertising materials and digital files owned by the authors of the popular eBook, "20 Ways To Make $100 Per Day Online." The eBook was placed on eBay without the authors' knowledge and consent, and the hotlinker conducted a fraudulent auction at the expense of the authors.

The hotlinker's customers even left him positive feedback. They were not aware that the eBay auction was fraudulent because the hotlinker used the authors' website graphics and brand identity to create the appearance of legitimacy.

Hotlinking results in the loss of control over intellectual property such as website logos, digital images and digital files of virtually all types. Hotlinking poses a significant economic danger to online businesses of all sizes. Even family, hobbyist, government and religious websites are vulnerable to malicious hotlinkers.

Left unchecked, a malicious hotlinker can gain control over propietary images and other digital content and pose as the originator of the material. Hotlinking subjects companies to lost profits and diluted brand identities. Hotlinkers may target websites as part of an identity-theft scheme, for instance.

A committed hotlinker may use hotlinked images to create the appearance that a well-recognized company or government agency is the sponsor of a website. The digital intellectual property of churches, mosques and synagogues also might be used by hotlinkers to give their website visitors a feeling of comfort by association.

This site exists to educate and inform the public about the dangers of hotlinking. It is sponsored by Hotlink Alarm. Indeed, the developers of HotlinkAlarm created the product because they were among the group of authors who experienced economic loss as a result of the fraudulent eBay auction of "20 Ways To Make $100 Per Day Online."


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