in Musings

Cartooning and Copyrights

Ron, a new MT.Net visitor (15 now! Woowoo!), mentioned today that Far Side cartoonist Gary Larson lives here on Orcas Island. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the alternate universe where instead of being a high-paid computer geek, I followed my cartooning interest into a career. Then I read about Mr. Larson’s polite but emphatic notices to fans to remove Far Side cartoons from their webpages. That’s when I run into a personal conflict.

I don’t want to begrudge Mr. Larson for wanting to protect his work. Its amazing work, really. Putting myself in his shoes, the last thing I’d ever want would be to see one of my characters peeing on a sticker on the back of a pickup truck. On the other hand, where do you draw the line between simple fandom and blatant copyright infringement? Does a band sue its fans for singing its songs?

I’ve worked with free software movement long enough to be irreversibly in the camp that holds sharing to be good. I don’t infringe copyrights (and as I said, I don’t begrudge those who use them to protect their work), I simply prefer work that is unencumbered by copyrights. Every one of us “stands on the shoulders of giants.” I feel its immensely important to give back to the community from which one’s ideas sprung.

I still idolize Mr. Larson, of course. The kid with the pen I once was would never let that go. I could never do his job, though. The question of how far to go with copyright enforcement would make my being a cartoonist – chained by a inflexible syndicate – very, very difficult for me. In a way I’m glad I’ll never have to consider it.