Hotlinks are links which direct users to files which are supported by other service. For example, a user can make a file supported by another server available from his or her own webpage by displaying a link to it. Upon clicking on the link, another user will be able to access the file, but the bandwidth consumed will be that of the original server containing the file, and not that of the user who linked to it.
One of the issues associated with hotlinking is the bandwidth consumption that it entails for the server which supports the file. This is why hotlinking may sometimes be referred to as leeching or piggy-backing. Also, since images and videos are common types of files targeted for hotlinking, it can pose copyright issues. Many photographers may find pictures they have taken passed on as other people’s artistic output. In other cases, certain images may be taken out of context.
An increase in bandwidth usage suggests that hotlinking is taking place, but this can also be more accurately tracked by website owners by monitoring logs. Hotlinking can also be prevented by disallowing attempts or setting switcharoos in place. Photographers can also place watermarks on their pictures in order to prevent theft.
As much as hotlinking can present some issues which might necessitate strict controls, it also has legitimate functions. For instance, there is a lot of material on the Internet which is made available for embedding on personal websites. The host sites allow hotlinking to their pages. For instance, a user may post a video from YouTube onto his personal website or Facebook page.