The Gary Larson Story: a mini-case-study

The situation of Gary Larson, creator of The Far Side cartoons, demonstrates one area where respect and integrity, the internet, and moral rights law intertwine. Many sites feature Gary Larson cartoons and praise Larson's work (here's one). Despite the publicity (indeed, even advertising) that this brings to Larson and The Far Side, Larson wants the owners of such sites to stop posting his creations. He has written a letter, desperately striving to curtail the posting of his cartoons without alienating his fans: Reto Portmann, one of those fans, removed the Larson cartoons from his site and replaced them with a copy of the letter. Portmann invited comments from visitors to his site. While many applaud Portmann's adherence to his hero's wishes, others accuse Larson and his managers of being greedy, selfish, and cruel.

Postings such as that of Larson's cartoons on the internet implicate not only the author's exclusive to display the work publicly 17 U.S.C. §101 (definitions of "display" & "publicly"), but could also implicate an author's moral rights in the work, if scanning the work into a computer could be interpreted as "distortion, mutilation, or modification" of the work. Should the scanning and posting of visual art qualify as "distortion, mutilation, or modification?" (note: Gary Larson's cartoons do not qualify as "visual art" under VARA)