21 July 2006

Gary Larson's Intellectual Property

Ever since coming across the Exposure book, I've been thinking about the whole copyright & intellectual property issue. Actually, it's been on my mind for a while, probably ever since Napster first came out... and then again when I started writing books...

At any rate, I was looking for Far Side cartoons online and came across this crazy note from Gary Larson. I am reasonably certain it's legit, and he basically says "No, you can't put Far Sides online anywhere."

His note strikes me as remarkably dumb.

Doesn't he realize his fame & fortune are due in large part to countless people posting Far Side cartoons on office doors, cube walls, bulletin boards, etc? He got a lot of free advertising from his fans, and quickly became a cultural phenomenon. Now he doesn't want that to happen anymore? I'm not a cartoonist, but I have a hard time imaginging there is much "emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control." That actually sounds like a good deal, particularly if you replace "beyond my control" with "without any effort on my part." It seems to me he should be saying Thanks, not Stop.

Today's doors and walls and bulletin boards are online - they're called webpages and blogs and MySpace. And Gary Larson apparently wants none of it.

How can he overlook the fact that the value of his ideas & cartoons increases with familiarity (to paraphrase Mr. Barlow's chapter in Exposure)?

If he wants or needs to stop drawing Far Side, fine (and I believe he stopped drawing them some time ago). He can still sell Greatest Hits collections, calendars, etc... but it is unreasonable, illogical and unwise to expect that he will still control the distribution of (and still profit by) stuff he produced 15 years ago.

It's a bit like an author objecting to used book stores, because he or she isn't getting a cut of the action.

It's a bit like a musician objecting to people humming their tunes within earshot of someone else...

It's a lot like the music industry, which has decided to treat fans like criminals.

And in this new digital world, it just doesn't make much sense.


Gabe said...

I think you are exactly right, but I can definitely feel Gary's pain. I think his feeling is along the same lines as Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes. The legend is that he quit doing the cartoon because too many people were taking liberty with Calvin...modifying his likeness (innocence) by placing him on the back of Chevys and having him "relieve" himself on his enemies. These people may have appreciated Calvin but there appreciation was very crude. And many folks thought these images were licensed by him....they weren't. Yet he gets the bad wrap. I would hate my Pictures implicating me for something I didn't do.

Dan said...

Yeah, the peeing Calvins are unfortunate (and basically impossible to prevent, no matter how many copyright laws & lawyers we secure).

The funny thing with the Far Side comice, though, is the way Larson prevents their display even if they are not changed, modified, etc.

It's as if he doesn't want them to be associated with "the wrong kind of people" (as if an artist can pick one's fans). I understand he would be disturbed if the KKK or Neo Nazi's put a bunch of Far Side comics on their website... but he won't even let Professor Smith do it... and given the original source of his fame & fortune, that just doesn't make much sense (and shows even less charity)

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