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Protect Your Digital Assets: Preventing Hotlinking on Business Websites

What is hotlinking? Learn more about this practice, how it affects your brand and website, and how to protect your business here.

When you have a public website, it's your job to protect your digital assets. People can easily plagiarize your blog posts, use your images, and steal other website elements without you knowing. Your digital assets can be hotlinked, which is a big concern for many.

What is hotlinking? This term refers to the practice of linking to an image that's hosted on another website. When someone hotlinks your pictures directly from your website, valuable server resources are wasted. The good news is that you can prevent websites from hotlinking image files and other media.

Below, we’ll dive deeper into the hotlink meaning and provide tips for hotlink protection. We'll even provide possible solutions, including restricting users and using an image hosting service.

What is hotlinking?

Hotlinking is when someone displays an image or another type of media on their website by linking directly to it via the asset URL. While hotlinking is most commonly used for images, it can also be used for audio files, videos, and flash animations.

Let's say you add a blog post to your website that includes a few pictures. Someone else might read that blog post and decide to display the photos on their website. If the person copies the image link and uses it on their website, they're hotlinking.

However, it isn't considered hotlinking when someone downloads an image from your website and hosts it on their own site.

What are the drawbacks of hotlinking?

On the surface, hotlinking might not seem like a big deal. Whether you're using stock photos or infographics you created in-house, it's not just about someone else using your images.

As a website owner, there are several reasons you should work to prevent hotlinking. This includes:

It's unethical and unprofessional

Even though hotlinking images or content isn't illegal, it's an unethical and unprofessional practice.

Ultimately, hotlinking involves stealing content from another website. Hotlinking can also put more strain on your site, which may mean you have to upgrade to meet demands.

Downloading media and hosting it on your own website is a simple alternative to hotlinking, so protect your assets and avoid hotlinking the digital creations of others.

Can lead to legal repercussions

When someone hotlinks your website's images, you can send them a copyright infringement notice and take legal action if you're the original owner.

The problem is that it costs a lot of money to sue for copyright infringement, and that's money that a lot of small business website owners don't have.

Legal battles can last for several weeks or months, and you don't want to spend your hard-earned money trying to prevent someone from using media from your website.

You have little to no control over hotlinked assets

You have complete control over your website and the media you upload. If someone decides to hotlink media from your website, you have no control over how it's used.

You can remove digital assets from your website or sue for copyright infringement if your content is hotlinked. Still, people can hotlink your images and videos and use them however they want.

If you're operating a family-friendly website or trying to maintain your image as a reputable business, you don't want bad actors using your assets in a negative way.

Increases server costs for the host site due to bandwidth theft

Image hotlinking isn't just about stealing media—this practice also puts more stress on the servers your website uses.

When a hotlinked image or video is loaded on another website, it uses bandwidth from your server. In some cases, you may have to pay higher hosting costs to make up for the additional bandwidth that's being used through hotlinking.

If you don't have a suitable website hosting package, hotlinking can take a toll on your site's performance. If enough third-party websites hotlink images and videos from your website, you may notice your web pages load slowly.

How to protect your business from hotlinking

From digital infographics to videos and stock photos, you need to protect your assets to avoid the hassles of hotlinking. Some hosting providers offer built-in hotlink protection, but there are other ways to protect your site.

Here's what you can do to enable hotlink protection and protect your business from hotlinking.

Access the .htaccess file

Accessing your .htaccess file and adding a few lines of code is one of the easiest ways to make sure you have hotlink protection enabled. You can access this file using an FTP client, but make sure to create a backup copy before changing any code.

Here's what you want to add to your .htaccess file to prevent backlinking:

RewriteEngine on RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$ RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www.)? [NC] RewriteRule .(jpg|jpeg|png|gif|bmp|tif|tiff)$ - [F]

Once you add this code to your .htaccess file and save your changes, your images will be protected against hotlinking. Make sure you add each image file type name to your .htaccess file to get comprehensive protection.

Watermark content

If you want to discourage people from stealing your images and videos—even if they're not hotlinking them—try watermarking.

Adding a simple watermark to your video tells people that the image came from your website, which is usually enough to prevent people from using your assets. If someone does use one of your images or videos, you'll get free advertising since your content is watermarked.

There are various watermarking tools, and your watermark can be as simple as your website name pasted diagonally over your videos and images.

Use a Content delivery network (CDN)

Instead of hosting media on your website, use a content delivery network with hotlink protection. CDNs are a smarter alternative when it comes to media hosting, allowing you to deliver images and videos to website visitors as quickly as possible. Even better, many CDNs offer hotlink protection, so you don't have to worry about people stealing your content.

A good CDN protects against hotlinking while allowing people to access and download images and other media.

Keep in mind that some CDNs can cause issues with search engine indexing. You can also use an image hosting service to avoid excessive bandwidth usage.

Educate website users

Hotlinking isn't always done maliciously. Some people hotlink media because they don't know about the problems it causes, so start by educating your website visitors about hotlinking and why it's harmful.

You can also make it easy for people to download media from your website so they can host it on their own site. That way, you don't have to pay for additional bandwidth. Consider adding a note about hotlinking to your website terms of use agreement.

Educating website users is a smart step, but covering all your bases can help you deliver unique content to your visitors without worrying about slow-loading web pages.

Disable right-clicking

Website restrictions are becoming more common because stealing content is a big issue on the internet. If you don't want people hotlinking your images, disabling right-clicking is an easy solution. Right-clicking on an asset and opening it in a new tab is the easiest way for people to get a direct link.

However, this solution isn't right for every website. You don't want to hinder functionality or make website visitors frustrated, so consider other hotlink protection methods if your website requires right-clicking.

Keep an eye on site visitors

If you notice your website is slow or you're out of bandwidth, keep a close eye on the people who visit your website. As a website owner, you can see when someone visits a specific page and how they interact with it. You can use these tools to determine who's accessing direct image links. Then, you can check to make sure those images aren't hotlinked and block the IP address engaging with your site.

What to do if your digital assets are hotlinked

Other websites are hotlinking your content—now what?

First, you can send a takedown notice to the website using your images. Sending a takedown request lets someone know you disapprove of your content being used outside your website. If your takedown request is ignored, you can pursue legal action and other avenues.

Since you own the content that's being hotlinked, you can permanently remove those files from your website or rename them to prevent hotlinking. Even changing one character in a file name can break any current hotlinks.

Protect your brand and content

As a website owner, you need to keep an eye on your website and make sure people aren't stealing your digital assets. Hotlinking isn't just about stealing content; it's also a massive issue when it comes to bandwidth.

Luckily, Mailchimp makes it easy to manage your website and boost your business. You can start by building your website with our simple website builder. Our content creation tools help you create, optimize, and manage your digital content.

If you need help protecting your digital assets and promoting your digital marketing campaign, try Mailchimp today.

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