January 9, 2003
This is an excellent article on the subject of bandwidth theft written by Richard Lowe and Claudia Arevalo-Lowe, of Internet Tips and Secrets. The site is full of valuable information and this article is reprinted with permission in its entirety and credited and linked to the authors. I would recommend visiting this site and signing up for the newsletter as well.
Sins of The Internet: Bandwidth Stealing
Virtually everyone who has created a web site is guilty of this sin at one time or another. This happens when you include an image, sound, movie, zip file or other similar object directly in your web pages (note that linking to a web page on another site is NOT bandwidth stealing). Linking directly to an object on another server by any means (again, excluding HTML-type pages) is bandwidth stealing, unless that is specifically allowed by the terms and conditions of the host provider.
Why is this an internet sin? It can be difficult to understand, but basically, what you are doing is stealing from someone, taking money from them without their approval or knowledge.
How it works is simple. Let's start with a free host such as GeoCities. The way these hosts make money is by displaying advertisements on web pages. They are paid a small amount for each ad which is displayed. Well, if you include that image directly off the Geocities server you are using their resources and communications channel but NOT showing their advertiser's banner. Thus, GeoCities is not earning any money, yet they have to pay for the server time and the communications costs.
This is even more direct for those of us who are paying for our bandwidth. Let's say you purchase 4 gigabytes a month from your host. You will be charged more if you exceed that amount. It's easy to see how a few hundred image displays on other web sites can directly cost the site owner more money.
It may not seem like it is a serious thing to include a photo on your web page directly from someone else's server, but nonetheless, each of these small hits add up. When dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people do the same thing, a web host can find itself needing to purchase new servers or communications lines to handle the load.
Even worse is those webmasters who link to large ZIP files (for example) on other web sites. They think they are being clever and hurting no one, but their damage is actually very extreme. For these are often not just small, 10kb images. They can be multi-megabyte downloads. Each click on these monsters is a major draw on the bandwidth of a host.
For example, it's a quite common problem for sites which host desktop themes and wallpapers to find their bandwidth costs going through the roof without a reasonable explanation. When they finally investigate their log files they find other web sites linking to their ZIP files.
Sometimes you will steal bandwidth and it's not really your fault. This can happen when you, for example, join a webring. You will emailed a few lines of HTML code to add to your web page. Many ringmasters will include references to their own images directly in these HTML snippets. The result? Bandwidth stealing.
This was particularly illustrated recently when a major free web host named angelfire.Com concluded that bandwidth stealing was unacceptable. They decided to block these activities (it is possible to detect when this occurs) and replace all remotely loaded images (stolen images) with their own logos. It was amusing in a sad kind of way to see how many webrings violated angelfire terms and conditions in this manner when the ring graphics were all replaced by the angelfire logo.
Another common mistake is to link directly to sound or video files. You'll see this on movie fan sites or, for instance, sites about the Simpsons. It's bad enough that many of the sites violate copyright laws ... they also often steal bandwidth.
Why isn't linking to a web page considered bandwidth stealing? Because the page is the one thing that you are supposed to link to on a web site. This gives the web site owner and host exactly what they are trying to achieve - exposure of their particular message. You are more or less free to link to any HTML-type page that you want to because that's what the web is intended to be. A vast number of pages all linked together in many different ways.
Some people and web site owners have questioned the validity of linking to any page within their site. They claim that you must link to their home page, or in one particularly obnoxious case, actually charge a $50 fee for linking to one of their pages! My belief is if these people don't want others to link to their pages they should get off the web. The entire structure of the internet is intended to be the free interchange of information at a page level. Don't like it? Use a different media or format (Adobe PDF files, for example).
The point of all this? To avoid this internet sin, simply load the image, zip file, sound, video or whatever on your own website. The bandwidth on your site is yours to do with as you please. And oh yes, link to any web page that you want. That's the way of the web.
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