It has been an alarming trend, growing each year it seems, at the number of people who wouldn't go into a store and steal something but have no problem stealing something online. Taking or using something that isn't yours without permission is stealing. Doesn't matter if it is online or offline. The use of others materials published online seems to be a grey area in many peoples minds for some reason.
Put the shoe on the other foot; if you spent a lot of time, effort, and money into making a site. You spend time, effort, and money to get traffic to the site. You earn your living from the site from your hard work. Then someone comes along and steals your traffic, your links, and your earnings...is it theft or just something that happens? Is it wrong for someone to do this?
I have had my own works copied and used without my permission. Many others and businesses have had the same happen to them. I see people using images and graphics I doubt they paid the licensing fees to "legally" use each day. "Hey, its online so it is free" is the thinking I suppose. I hear about people "hot linking" to another site for their images. Downloading music, movies, and programs for free that shouldn't be free. It seems that just because there isn't a "cop" on the beat online - people can get away with stuff.
We scream for a person who steals money from a senior to be drawn and quartered when it happens in the real world; but, if that senior owned a web site and people stole his traffic, money, and links...oh, well. Maybe it give us a thrill to do and get away with it, like speeding when we think there isn't a cop around.
What people don't realize there IS cops online. Every day there are people who are arrested or severely fined for what they do online. Not just weirdos and pedophiles either. People who thought it was OK to use an cool image they found online on their site. There is a whole division in Getty Images devoted to finding these people and laying a heavy duty fine on them and possible jail time.
The entertainment industry has special tagging for their stuff so they know if it was illegally downloaded or shared. Yet we feel sorry for the granny who got a huge fine in the high six figures for downloading a few songs.
The REALLY scary thing that has come to light recently is HOW law enforcement works online as opposed to offline. If they are investigating you for any supposed online crime and get a search warrant to see your online data and accounts - you will NEVER know about it. Your data holder, whether it be your ISP, Gmail, HotMail, Facebook, or any other online service you use will get the search warrant with a gag order attached. They cannot tell you about it EVER. Google it and be afraid...be VERY afraid.
So just because you think stealing links and traffic won't be noticed, do it to the wrong site owned by the wrong person and they make a LOT of noise to law enforcement, you are toast. Read up on the new cyber terrorism and hacking laws to see what you could be in for. If that don't scare you - nothing will.
Anyway...stepping off the soap box now...