Eliminating Bandwidth Theft While Offering Linkware
Around 5 years ago I found a great niche of combining my passion for music and graphics in a way to help others—I began offering a line of linkware music graphics, eventually getting its own domain name as it grew. The benefits have been beyond my wildest imagination; however, the bandwidth theft problems (people linking directly to my server rather than downloading them) made me almost shut down the site.
Strong Motivation to Continue
I had a strong motivating force that drove me to figure out a way around the bandwidth theft problem, though, as I’ll explain.
We all know that teachers are underpaid, and funds for music and the arts have been drastically cut from schools throughout the world over the years. Little did I know that my music images could end up helping in some small way. Thinking it would be fun to create music images as a public service, I hoped it would also help bring in visitors and potential clients and end up as a win-win situation.
It is truly mind-boggling to me and such an amazing feeling to see that five years later countless schools, universities, churches, private instructors, and volunteers around the world have been using my music images to help build their school band sites, their school orchestra sites, their choir sites, their extra-curricular music program sites, music software programs, and so much more. I have found far more satisfaction knowing I’ve been of even a small help than any amount of money could ever buy. And of course, it hasn’t hurt my business, either.
I couldn’t allow bandwidth thieves to prevent me from continuing to promote music and music education, even in my small little way with music graphics. So I had to figure out some solutions.
Some hosts provide scripts that prevent bandwidth theft by not allowing external direct linking to images (Zeldman.com uses that script, for example), while many of us don’t have that option. Here are a few things that I’ve done that have finally eliminated the bandwidth theft problem:
- I’ve been gradually* removing all the individual music images from the server and instead providing watermarked screenshots (such as the sample to the right). While people must download zip files now to use the images, this approach eliminates direct linking of images to my server since there are no images to link to anymore. I’ve also grouped individual images into zipped sets for more convenience.
- Alternative #1:
For images on the server, some have suggested regularly changing the image names. While that may break bandwidth thieves' links temporarily, I found that people would just come back to my site, find the new URL and re-link (yes, despite my requests NOT to link to my server and including a page of directions for how to download images).
While I haven’t personally found this to work well in the long run in addition to being too time-consuming, if you have images that you must keep on your server, this could work combined with the stubborn bandwidth thief solution I describe below (following the next alternative).
- Alternative #2:
Try using a password-protected directory for your linkware images to prevent other sites from direct linking. While I haven’t personally tried this, I’ve heard that it does work.
Stubborn Bandwidth Thieves
I’ve also had to deal with people who’ve continued to directly link to my server despite now broken images and despite repeated requests to remove their direct links. Most of the bandwidth thieves have been from freebie personal sites or message boards where people can use icons for identification. There have been only a handful of school sites stealing my bandwidth.
What I’ve done with them may seem drastic, but it’s also been highly effective. I’ve also only used this as an absolute last resort:
I’ve created new, absurd images to replace what the bandwidth thief has been linking to, so they’ll end up with something like this glaring, blinking image (imagine that for a background image - here’s an example!). In every single case to date they’ve finally removed the direct link when I’ve uploaded a glaring blinking image like this.
Is it Worth it?
With all that said, you might wonder if it’s even worth all the trouble. To me, the answer is nonetheless an emphatic YES! While I do earn small change from selling the commercial versions, I’ve met so many musicians, teachers, and music lovers from all over the world, and I’ve gained plenty of warm fuzzies for feeling like I’m helping music education and others in even a small way.
We each have special interests, and in my own life I’ve certainly found that passionately pursuing those interests, including within my business, has tremendous reward. If it wasn’t worth it, I wouldn’t do it.
*[It’s taken a lot of time to convert my entire site to this approach, which is why it’s been gradual. If you’re considering opening a graphics site, I’d suggest this approach right from the start!]
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