Bandwidth Theft

Introduction There are two tests for theft which include: Thus bandwidth theft is the intentional usage of someone's bandwidth without that person's authorization. A number of types of bandwidth theft exist.


Spam is a colloquial reference to unsolicited electronic mail.

Spam is a form of bandwidth theft and is not often recognized as such. However, a close examination of spam shows that it fulfills the tests for theft. The bandwidth required to obtain spam is indeed the property of the recipient since it has been obtained with consideration which is rightfully given to the service provider. The originator of the spam may or may not have the intention of depriving the recipient of at least some usage of his property.


Advertisements on certain web sites are also possible candidates for bandwidth theft. Again, as with spam, they are not authorised by the recipient, and the originator may or may not knowingly place them to deprive the recipient of bandwidth.

Linking [...]

Web pages may link to other web pages using hyperlinks. The hyperlink object allows a viewer to click on a link to reach another site. The owner supplies bandwidth as a gift, or to sell something, etc.

It is possible to use a HTML tag in a webpage to embed material from another site in it. Thus when the webpage is sent to someone to view, the bandwidth for the embedded material is supplied by the owner of the second site.

This may not be desirable for the owner of the second site: he or she may only be willing to supply the material, with the corresponding bandwidth, if that material is viewed embedded in his or her own webpages, e.g. because otherwise it does not help him earn money which compensates for the bandwidth cost.

This may be considered unfair and even be called "bandwidth theft". If there are no copyright restrictions, it would be considered fairer if the owner of the first site puts copies of the embedded material on his or her own site. If there are copyright restrictions, the alternative would be to just link to the other site.

For example, Site A hosted by Party 1 puts up a commentary on paintings. In this commentary they would like to post a few images of the paintings discussed. Assume that the paintings are public domain or such use is covered under fair use. Party 1 could host the images (such an option is legally possible), but, instead, Party 1 embeds a tag that causes these images to be downloaded from a server belonging to Party 2. When WebSurfer 1 opens up Site A in his web browser the bandwidth for Site A is provided by Party 1. However, the images are obtained from Party 2. (This practice is sometimes also call hotlinking.)

It is somewhat doubtful if the act of linking can be construed as theft since theft requires unauthorized usage. The underlying protocol for web pages requires the requests to be made by the browser. In response, the server will send out the requested object. Since the server has clearly served the request, it is doubtful that a case for theft can be made, even if the intent was clearly to deprive the owner of rightful use.

The situation is further complicated by the ability to configure servers to prevent serving of objects based upon the request. However, many Internet Service Providers now have rules regarding bandwidth theft which make it a violation of their Terms of Use to cause bandwidth theft from another server using their service. So,while a bandwidth thief may not get hit with monetary repercussions paying back the cost incurred by the person they stole from, they can most certainly, and often do, lose their Internet access over the matter. -- [Jul 2004]

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