Why I Embed My Images

I pay good money for my hosting and enjoy rock-solid service (well, semi-solid at least) from a reliable hosting company.

Despite running several domains, I am nowhere near my bandwidth limit for my account and am in no danger of going over my allotted 1 TB of bandwidth. I could probably host all of my sites many times over without any problems terms of raw transfer.

Yet, whenever I want to insert media files into my site, be it images or mp3s of the podcast, I seek out alternative hosting. Be it from a photo sharing site such as Photobucket or, my current favorite, a file hosting site such as Boxstr (see update below), I offload these media files as much as practical.

Why do I do this? To protect this site and ensure that, no matter what happens, it stays up. By offloading these media files, I mitigate against not one, but two of the biggest threats that this site could face on the Web and avoid some potential headaches down the road.

The Digg Effect

One of the most obvious reasons for offloading media files is to shield against any sudden spikes in bandwidth use. As a site that has survived two Digg Effects, a Slashdotting, mentions on Boing Boing, an appearance Fark and dozens of StumbleUpon runs, Plagiarism Today has seen what traffic spikes can do and. Fortunately, since the move to Media Temple, this site has survived them all with grace.

However, that doesn’t completely eliminate the threat. After all, if a large image, or worse yet a podcast, hits the front page of Digg that bandwidth can still disappear pretty quickly. Offloading it ensures that, even if the media goes down, the site remains viable and that I am not slammed with overages by my host. That serves me better and it serves the visitors better.

However, the truth be told, even if a large file on my server hit Digg, I could probably survive with minimal trouble. One TB of data would likely take over a million downloads to use up completely.

In truth, the real reason is much trickier and, sadly, much more likely. Worst of all, it is a risk I expose myself to solely by what I write about.

Fair Use and Evildoers

When I started Plagiarism Today, I knew that I was going to be held to the highest standards both in terms of copyright and attribution. There have been many times that I’ve wanted to do something with this site but felt that the copyright issues were just too uncertain, even if others on the Web were doing the exact same thing with no major problems.

However, in recent months, I’ve made a conscious attempt to add more images, videos and audio files to Plagiarism Today and, over all, I think it’s been a success. However, it opens up a new risk. Where the content on the site is written directly by me, the images are usually screenshots of logos, sample images of a site or other demonstrative works used for clarification.

I am very confident that all of my use is well within the bounds of what would likely be considered fair use and certainly well within what one would call standard practices on the Web.

Still, this doesn’t stop someone from filing a DMCA notice. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from keeping on top of copyright news, it is that the law is generally used for good but, in some cases, can be used stifle free speech.

The mere fact that I am talking about and instructing in the responsible use of a controversial law almost instantly makes me a target for a false notice, a fact made patently obvious by some of the emails and comments I have gotten.

Quite frankly, given the level the hostility has reached at times, I’m only stunned that it hasn’t happened already.

Teaching Me a Lesson

When analyzing the risks of running this site, I decided that there were two types of individuals likely to file a DMCA notice notice against me.

  • The Anti-Copyright Extremist: This person, upset that I claim anything postive can come out of the notice and takedown system files a DMCA notice against me in order to “teach me a lesson” about the law.
  • The Pro-Copyright Extremist: This person, taking issue with even the most insignificant use of their material, files a DMCA against me because they are upset at my use of a screenshot or other element and generally don’t understand fair use.
  • There was no real way to mitigate against the first kind of extremist. Their claim would have no basis on reality and could just file a notice against anything on the site.

    I did, however, work to find a host with a fair DMCA policy and I know the person who processes claims here at Media Temple. I am confident that, if it did happen I would be able to keep the site live and that they would not simply “pull the plug” like some hosts.

    However, even if my host did shut me down, it would be a disaster for the person filing the notice. As I’ve worked on this site, I’ve come to know and befriend many IP attorneys. Odds are I could find someone to help me go after someone filing a patently false DMCA notice.

    Such an event would not be tolerated.

    Fortunately, the first possibility is very unlikely. False DMCA notices are rarely random and even those used to stifle unwanted speech are based somewhere in a misconception about copyright law. That makes the second scenario much more likely.

    Fortunately, that of notice can be mitigated against much more easily.

    Since everything written in this blog is by my hand. There is little chance of someone filing a notice against the text. The blogging application, WordPress, is open source, and both the header image and theme are used with permission and are properly attributed.

    The only content on this site regularly used from other locations and without prior approval are the images and some of the content contained in the videos.

    Though, as I said above. I’m comfortable that the use is legal, that is not a 100% guarantee against a DMCA notice. That is why it is important to be prepared for the possibility.

    Shifting the Burden

    The idea is simple. If someone objects to the use of a screenshot on this site and decides to skip contacting me or posting a comment in favor of a DMCA notice, they will be filing against the image host and not the company actually hosting my site.

    Yes, the image will go down and it is entirely possible I could lose my account at that company, but the rest of the site will stay up. Even better, all of my images are backed up and can be easily reposted elsewhere if needed. The same goes for the videos and the audio.

    In the event of such an attack, Plagiarism Today will suffer no downtime and there will only be a brief outage for the content so long as I am at my computer or nearby when it happens.

    This is a pretty basic idea and it is one I started working on shortly after my first encounter with iPowerWeb but only started actively using in recent months as I’ve escalated the amount of images on the site.

    However, it is a technique a lot of bloggers could benefit from, especially those that deal with controversial topics that might draw unfair DMCA notices from critics with little concept of how the law works.

    Application (And Removal)

    To use this system on your site, all you have to do is ensure that you only put things on your server that you have created or have direct permission to use. Anything that relies on fair use, no matter how clear cut it seems, should be hosted elsewhere.

    Personally, I use Revver for video, because they have a fair copyright policy and are CC-friendly, and Boxstr for other file types as it allows direct linking and high bandwidth limits without any restrictions (see note below).

    I, generally, do not recommend YouTube as their terms of service is overreaching and Flickr is frustrating due to its restrictions on the types of images you can use and requirement that the image be linked back to the Flickr page, rather than to a third party.

    Both of these sites have at least the potential to create more IP issues than they resolve by forcing you to give up rights

    Conclusions

    For all of the hype that they get, false DMCA notices are actually very rare. Your average blogger has very little to worry about them and can probably go about their business relatively secure that it will never happen to them.

    But those who deal with controversial subjects or frequently use content under fair use may want to consider using this technique to better shield themselves against the threat of such an notice.

    When you consider that decent file hosting is both free and readily-available, there is very little reason to not take advantage of such services. In addition to providing protection against traffic spikes and DMCA notices, it also makes it easier to move your site to a new host (fewer files to transfer) and helps organize and backup the files you use.

    All in all, using file hosts is a natural decision for many reasons, it just happens to provide a form of protection against a rare, but potentially devestating, form of attack.

    Note: Just before submitting this I discovered that Boxstr has a similar linking requirement to Flickr. I apparently overlooked this when originally signing up for the site as it is worded differently and not made as clear as with Flickr. I am going to transfer my images over to Photobucket but leave the audio files with Boxstr as I already provide direct links with for all audio files.

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