Why John C. Dvorak got busted for "hotlinking"

PC Magazine columnist John C. Dvorak's blog proudly displays an image labeled as "used without permission." Is Dvorak bragging about the copyright violation? Nope. He's just pulled a boneheaded move known in the blogging world as "hotlinking," and the altered image shows that he got caught at it.

There are a number of unwritten rules to blogging. One of the more common — and more grievous — violations is "hotlinking." This is when a blogger uses HTML code to display an image hosted on someone else's website. Though you haven't copied the image, some lawyers say displaying the image on another Web page could still be considered using the image without permission. More annoyingly, the image loads directly from the original server, using their bandwidth, not yours.

Now, in the age of cheap bandwidth and free picture hosting, this isn't as big a deal as it used to be, but it is a bit of a slap in the face to the person whose image is used. In a post about reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, one of Dvorak's editors hotlinked an image from a post by Mike Harding of Montara Energy ventures.

One way to rectify the situation is to email the hotlinker and ask him to stop. However, some people like to take this one step further. Because the photo is being loaded directly from the victim's site, he can easily change the image to something else, generally something offensive and Not Safe For Work TM as a punishment. Luckily for Dvorak though, as you can see above, Mike Harding merely put a notice in the image that it was being stolen.

Since then, however, Dvorak's post has changed the image so that it is now being hosted locally, but without any apology or explanation for their screwup. As Harding says in his post on the matter to Dvorak: "You're in the biz, you know better than this."

My favorite hotlinking story involves John McCain's MySpace page. Some intern in the McCain campaign took, without attribution, the MySpace profile design of Newsvine's Mike Davidson, including a hotlinked image from Davidson's account. Davidson replaced the image and suddenly McCain proclaimed his support for gay marriage, "particularly ... between passionate females." Sweet!

Why John C. Dvorak got busted for "hotlinking"