Dear Gary Larson: Your Kids Go Out At Night; Let Them Be

from the letting-go dept

A whole bunch of you sent over this note from Gary Larson, which gently asks fans of The Far Side to stop posting his comics online:

On the one hand, I confess to finding it quite flattering that some of my fans have created web sites displaying and / or distributing my work on the Internet. And, on the other, I’m struggling to find the words that convincingly but sensitively persuade these Far Side enthusiasts to “cease and desist” before they have to read these words from some lawyer.

What impact this unauthorized use has had (and is having) in tangible terms is, naturally, of great concern to my publishers and therefore to me — but it’s not the focus of this letter. My effort here is to try and speak to the intangible impact, the emotional cost to me, personally, of seeing my work collected, digitized, and offered up in cyberspace beyond my control.

I actually believe this statement is an old one (a quick search shows it popping up many years ago as well — at least going back to 2005), so I’m not sure why it’s suddenly being submitted by multiple people, but I’m guessing it was recently mentioned on a big site (Reddit, maybe?). Either way, assuming Larson still feels this way (and if he doesn’t, someone please let me know!), it’s still worth discussing. The fact that there does not appear to be any official source for Far Side strips online, at least suggests that Larson and his publisher still feel this way. It appears this “letter” is sent out with each takedown notice that his publisher sends out.

While some of the submissions bashed Larson, the letter is actually pretty reserved and calm. Unlike some complaints like this, he does not talk about “stealing” or complain about how he can’t eat because of this. While I think he (and his publisher) are greatly overestimating how this might have any sort of “negative” impact on them, he’s not going off the rails and attacking people. Instead, he (as many content creators have done over time), talks about it from an emotional level, comparing his works to his children:

So, in a nutshell (probably an unfortunate choice of words for me), I only ask that this respect be returned, and the way for anyone to do that is to please, please refrain from putting The Far Side out on the Internet. These cartoons are my “children,” of sorts, and like a parent, I’m concerned about where they go at night without telling me. And, seeing them at someone’s web site is like getting the call at 2:00 a.m. that goes, “Uh, Dad, you’re not going to like this much, but guess where I am.

Of course, part of being a parent is (at a certain point) recognizing that your children have grown up and don’t need to tell you where they are. They do go out at night, and you should respect that, and recognize that they might not really be in trouble. I’d argue that this is a case where that’s absolutely true.

If you look back at the massive success of The Far Side, it would not be crazy to suggest that a not insignificant portion was due to the fact that many, many, many people cut out or copied Far Side comics, and posted them on their refrigerators or office walls or wherever it was they shared comics. For years, I used to have a “God at his computer” (with a giant “smite” button) Far Side (from a page-a-day calendar from sometime in the 90s) taped to my computer. Of course, those were all cases of Larson’s “children” going out at night as well.

In fact, I’d argue that the lack of old Far Side comics being allowed online these days is actually doing much more harm to The Far Side franchise and Larson’s reputation, than if he simply left them on. It takes The Far Side out of the discussion. Meanwhile, we’ve seen how new webcomics, like xkcd take the exact opposite approach. xkcd doesn’t just put all its comics online, or not complain about people sharing them on other sites, but with each and every comic, it gives you the embed code so that you can embed it via a hotlink. And, rather than hurting xkcd creator Randall Munroe, it seems to have massively increased his possibility. And even though all the comics are for free, xkcd books are still in high demand, and Munroe makes pretty good money selling prints of each strip, despite all of that.

Or, if you don’t consider Munroe/xkcd a peer because his comics come from a different era/world, how about Scott Adams, with Dilbert, which at times has had a similar reputation as The Far Side, and also owes a great debt to people sharing copies of its comics on their office walls. And, just like Larson and The Far Side, Adams has to deal with a publisher/syndication company that wants to sell his books. And, yet, the Dilbert website has a full archive of all Dilbert comics for free, with a nice search engine. It also makes it easy for anyone to share and embed the strips on their website if they want to do that (for free). On top of that, not so long ago, they created a nice feature that makes it ridiculously easy to license any Dilbert strip for all sorts of uses, with a couple of clicks and a simple price. And, it doesn’t sound like any of this has “harmed” Dilbert’s ability to earn money. In fact, it has done quite the opposite.

So, while I don’t know for sure why this is suddenly getting attention, it seems like it’s time for Gary Larson and Creators Syndicate to maybe reconsider their position. The children have grown up. You don’t need to protect them any more. You can set them free and watch as they do wonderful things that make you proud.

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Comments on “Dear Gary Larson: Your Kids Go Out At Night; Let Them Be”

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el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Larson

We thank you (as a society) for greatly contributing to our culture. The Far Side cartoons have always had a shortcut to my funny bone for the last few decades. When I was teaching college (in grad school) I would end every lecture on one. With that said, we have stood by our part of the bargain. We have given you (and your publishers) a monopoly on distribution, now we ask that you give back to the public domain of culture from which you borrowed to create the cartoons in the first place.

Warmly yours,
Teh interwebs

Anonymous Coward says:

He's been doing this for years

Userfriendly made some strips that were based on a couple of his comics, and Illiad was threated by his lawyers to the point that he had to take the offending strips down. I imagine there was a case for fair use, but he didn’t persue it. One of my favorites was of the Deer with the birthmark bullseye looking at a guy with a T-shirt that read: “Ask my any tech question” and saying, “And I thought I had a bummer of a birthmark”. Gone, because Larson didn’t get paid for it.

Steve R. (profile) says:

To be Noticed or Forgotten?

I vaguely remember an incident where a reporter asked an actress(?) why she wore some awful dress. Her response, “It is better to be noticed than not.” Gary Larson is in the same predicament. His works on internet keep his work “alive”. It is free publicity.

Not only that some people who would not otherwise know of Larson’s work (absence of expensive publicity) may buy his work. Just think, fans through their work, generate free publicity that will potentially reach a market of 6 billion people!

Matt says:

Dig further

That note is far older than 05, and those examples did not exist then. I haven’t heard anything more recent about his attitude toward the internet, but I can understand where he was coming from considering the internet was much younger when he posted this, and no one was really doing anything similar (as far as I know). There’s a story here, but the lack of research on the time period of the note makes you take a very different angle on something that’s a decade older than how you’re analyzing it. It was posted on reddit with more detail on its background, if you’d like to learn more.

Overcast (profile) says:

We thank you (as a society) for greatly contributing to our culture. The Far Side cartoons have always had a shortcut to my funny bone for the last few decades. When I was teaching college (in grad school) I would end every lecture on one. With that said, we have stood by our part of the bargain. We have given you (and your publishers) a monopoly on distribution, now we ask that you give back to the public domain of culture from which you borrowed to create the cartoons in the first place.

See ^^^

The internet is nothing more than a gateway into people’s minds and emotions – to the point they are willing to tell it to others.

Before the internet, people might post the comic in their cube, on a window or a door.

Now they just do it online. It’s not really any different than personal use in the past. It’s just more noticeable now.

Now and in the past, would they even seek to control the situation if a person posts a comic strip on their cube on on the fridge?

DSchmeling (profile) says:

No adverts


Randall Munroe sells books, t-shirts, and as I understand it both the original (?) and reproductions of individual strips on request.

Furthermore, he has ads on a few other websites/webcomics, but the vast majority of his advertising is word of mouth, that’s how I found out about it, and I’ve told a few dozen people about it personally and through facebook.

Sometime in the future I’ll probably buy his books to go into a collection, but that may take awhile as I don’t really currently have space for them.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Larson

Politely and respectfully said, but premature. The copyrights on Larson’s works still have a long time to run before they go to the public domain.

He hasn’t gotten his part of the bargain yet, so why should “we” be looking for our payoff yet?

I also note that Mike’s analogy of taping a page of a Far Side calendar to his PC is not reallly apt. Larson wasn’t complaining about acts protected by the first sale doctrine or, arguably, fair use (for copies actually made). What he was complaining about was the further distribution of his protected works without his permission.

So, “Teh interwebs” should be prepared to wait another few decades and not present the bill for Larson’s payment on the bargain until it is actually due.


Hugh Mann (profile) says:


Tearing the comic out of the newspaper or book and posting it on your fridge or cubicle is clearly protected by the first sale doctrine. It’s not copying and distribution.

Arguably, making one copy of the same comic to post it may be protected as a fair use.

However, scanning and posting that same comic to a web site where it is availble for copying/download by the entire world is quite a step beyond posting your own single copy where it may be observed by those physically present.


Marcus Carab (profile) says:


But then, where is the line drawn?

If I post a clipped comic in my cubicle, maybe only I and a couple of co-workers see it. If I post it on the board by the water cooler, maybe the 20 people on the floor see it. If I post it on the board by the elevators, maybe the 200 people in the building see it. If I post it on the shared concourse, maybe 5,000 people in the office complex see it. If I staple it to a lamppost on the street, maybe 10,000 people see it every single day. And if I post it in a web forum, the number could be anywhere from ten to ten-million depending on the popularity of the site.

So how far is too far?

DJ says:

Top Notch Journalism here

So… let’s see if I have this right. 2 minutes of research by me concluded that supposedly Gary Larson wrote this letter in 1998, 3 years after retiring from creating any further ‘Far Side’ material, and it’s now buzzworthy enough to have made my feed this morning.

One has to wonder if the article’s author looked down from holding their vastly superior nose up in the air long enough to actually do any research about this, or if this is just a knee-jerk reaction to their philosophy that anything ever created by anyone on the planet should be offered for the will of the masses, without compensation to the creator at all.

And you wonder why the best humor we can get these days is people purposely mungling phrases such as “teh interwebs” and hoping 10 people hit the like button as opposed to the creation of honestly inspired humor every week for 15 years distributed via the method of the time, and published under the rules needed to make a living doing so.

I like a lot of today’s web comics and see how they can be honestly profitable, but Gary Larson is to this day unmatched in his humor, but obviously 15 years was enough and he doesn’t want to create new content. If he were creating new content and had a reason to drive people towards a website for distribution I’m sure he’d be spamming all of our inboxes with the links to this week’s strip and how to buy the latest talking cow holding a cup of coffee panties. But he’s not, and his content has been seen by so much of the world such things would have no draw, only the nostalgic ‘I remember that’ viewing better reserved for coffee-table books anyway.

So stop whining about something written 12 years ago and let the guy do what he feels is best for his work, 15 years later.

Hugh Mann (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Larson

No, I think I got the point very clearly, but I think the point is a misguided one. Well-intentioned and politely stated, of course, but misguided.

It is premature to talk about “we” having stuck to our side of the bargain in providing Larson with a monopoly until that monopoly has actually been given its full run. With people posting the comics without Larson’s permission “we” are actually the ones who are reneging. We’re taking public possession of his works too soon, shortening the monopoly the societal bargain entitles him to.


coldbrew says:

To be Noticed or Forgotten?

We get it. Nobody is contesting what is currently written into the law.

The point being made through out this thread is that the culture has already become part of the public’s consciousness (i.e. he can’t un-share it) and people already often re-tell it, iterate on it, and share it. The fact that the law has not caught up with the digital reality is, rather, the point.

As more people become familiar with the restrictions that current IP places on the publics’ non-commercial use, the greater the outcry for change will come, but some of us have already started.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Mr Larson-

Every time I push a pull door, or pull a push door I am reminded of one of my favorites, “School for the Gifted”.

What you have discovered here is an opportunity, a door if you will. While I appreciate the tone of your approach, a different tact may yield better results. Why not create your own site…yes I’ve been to your “site”…You may generate much more interest in your products if you had an archive of your comics on the site.

You could create a hub for all things Farside and embrace your fans, let them generate complimentary content and profit from it.

Pushing, pulling…one will work, one will not.

Just a thought.

Not an electronic Rodent says:


In order to put it up on your web site, you necessarily made a copy of it. And it’s then available for everyone in the world to make their own copy.

And there you said it yourself: In that scenario he’s only made ONE copy for his website, which you consider fair use, and everyone else viewing it is free to make their own copy if they desire. To follow the original tenuous analogy, what if the he happens to post it near a copier and each of the 200 people take it down and make their own copies of it?

Again, where is the line? Is it differnt if you put it on a blog page saying “here’s a cool thing I agree with and here’s why”? Does intent come into it? Or mere presence? Or commercial interest? And if so, how do you define commercial interest? Direct sale? Central to business? Advertising? Advertising on the page? Advertising on the site?

The issue is nowhere near as clear cut as you seem to be trying to suggest even in law never mind common sense.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:


I’m not saying I don’t see your point, but I also don’t think the line is as clear as you’d like it to be.

When you put it on a website, you don’t make “copies for everyone” – you make one copy, which others can then choose to make their own copies from.

So to post the cartoon on a bulletin board at the office is okay – but to photocopy it and put one on the board and one in my cubicle isn’t?

Or what if I put the original up, and someone from a different department snags it to make a copy for his own water-cooler – does that change the nature of my original action?

harbingerofdoom (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Larson

no.. still think you are missing the point here because you keep trotting out the point of laws and arbitrary time tables associated with those laws.

the point is that larson used society and current events as inspiration to create his works, and that someones opinion is that he should allow these works to be made more available and thus, giving back to the society … thats all… just an opinion.

nowhere does it say that he does not, nor should not have the right to lock up his creations only to use them as he sees fit. you are arguing a point that was not made in the post you replied to.
while i agree with you 100% that he does have the right to do what he wants with his works, i will not agree with you that people expressing their opinions about the matter is misguided.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (profile) says:

Bad Analogy?

I can’t help but think that calling them his children is a terrible analogy. You want everybody to love your children, and taking the effort to scan and post repositories of comics definitely shows love. Similarly, only the most incredibly overbearing of parents demands total and absolute control over their children’s lives, completely devoid of outside influence.

What elevates the above from nitpicking to actual useful contribution is that the above exactly describes how I view my own creations, and I can’t help but find Larson overbearing in copyright and (based on his analogy) parenting.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

To be Noticed or Forgotten?

We get it. Nobody is contesting what is currently written into the law.

I contest it. I want copyright to go back to the time limits that patents currently are and copyrights once were…18 years with one renewal.

36 years should be plenty of time for Mr. Larson or anyone else to receive adequate compensation for their art. After 36 years, it becomes public domain. Those of us who bought the art will still have it, and remember that we still have it, and will be able to make it available via Project Guttenberg or other online libraries.

Anonymous Coward says:

Top Notch Journalism here

It really sounds more like you were looking for someone to beat on for being “backwards”, after all, you seem to be encouraging him to change his ways in the future, 13 years after he wrote the piece.

More from the whiny and desperate department, I guess. Why can’t you be gracious, admit the error, and call an end to a mistake?

Anonymous Coward says:

Dear Mr. Larson

I don’t know about you but to wait a 100 years is more time then I want to commit to this.

If he didn’tt want other people to see his work that is fine by me.

I will just go play a story elsewhere šŸ™‚

We don’t need Gary Larson’s in this world.

ps: I never read one of his comics, so it really is not that much trouble to never read them or pay anything to him or whomever holds the rights to it.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Dear Mr. Larson

> It is premature to talk about “we” having stuck to our side of the
> bargain in providing Larson with a monopoly until that monopoly
> has actually been given its full run.

The bargain that allows for such a lengthy run wasn’t struck with “us” or “society”. It was struck between Big Content and the congressmen they bought and paid for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Top Notch Journalism here

He didn’t just address it, he made a plea to larson 13 years after the fact. It’s a non-story. A non-issue. TD routinely ignores interesting stories (no discussion on the poor concert sales in 2010, the cancelled tours, and the forecasts for significantly diminished ticket prices in 2011), instead we get 13 year old crap, framed as if it is current.

Most annoyingly, it is about an artist who no longer even wants to promote his product or have it available on the internet. That is his choice, and a whiny blogger trying to score points with his sheeple has no reason to get involved.

Larson has made a choice, so leave him alone!

The Mighty Buzzard (profile) says:

To be Noticed or Forgotten?

Yes, but you don’t disagree that it is written into law.

Didn’t it start out as 7+7 rather than 18+18? Given that the intent of copyright is to promote the creation of more art, I’d say 14 is plenty. If a creator is going to have to create enough to support themselves every 14 years, they’re going to create significantly more if they don’t want to have to get a day job. Which, of course, is what being an artist is really all about in the first place.

hxa7241 says:

To be Noticed or Forgotten?

> Why isn’t it Larson’s choice to make as to whether he wants exposure to that sort of publicity?

Assuming you are talking more fundamentally, morally, rather than on current law, there is a simple answer. Because telling people what they can and cannot do with public information is unjstly violating their personal freedom. Once information, ideas, etc. are made public they become a commons by neccessity. People simply using the information in itself, to read, share etc., causes no harm to anyone else. So restriction of that use of the information invades personal freedom and does so without justification.


Is it property or not?

It’s like the bit with the Scots and how a lot of us have said for a long time. If you really want this stuff to be treated like property then you should be willing to accept all the consequences of that. This includes what can happen when you abandon your property.

I can lose land that way. Larson or anyone else should expect no less.

Ben says:

This confuses me for a couple of reasons. I mean comming from someone like Bill Watterson it would make perfect sense but Garry Larson? The dude is one step below Jim Davis in whoring the fuck out of his cartoons. (Davis you will note has all of garfield online, he also contributed to the “Garfield without Garfield” book, since Davis is a marketer first, comic writer/artist second) Yeah Larson has more credibility then Davis since his comics are… you know, good.

But they are on EVERYTHING, calenders, mugs, mouse matts, posters, stickers, if you can think of something to stick his comic on it’s probably already there. But the fact that he’s completely ignored an online presence seems… well weird.

Logan says:

reproductive rights

Yo, anyone who reads the post to which this comment attaches: appears we individually and collectively should feel free to reproduce anything we find created by Masnick or published on this website, including putting it in anthologies that you sell or give away. Mr. Masnick appears to have given unfettered and full release of his intellectual property into the public domain. Or established himself as a hypocrit. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume everything he has created is yours to do with as you wish.

Anonymous Coward says:

People should consider themselves lucky they made a pile of money on creative content before the internet exploded. I would love to see a young Gary Larson make money now days. hahahahaa He would be like the countless unpaid youtubers that spend hours on a 10 second animation clip. Yep. You are lucky dude you make that pile of cash. Leave it at that and enjoy your life.

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