From Gin Lane to the Information Superhighway…

Cartooning and copyright have a long history together.

Cartoons and copyright © Chris Madden
© Chris Madden

The very first visual copyright law – The Engravers’ Copyright Act of 1734 – was prompted by artist and engraver William Hogarth and his battles with unscrupulous printmakers who made unlicensed copies of his work. Of course, the surplus of supply made his originals, or any licensed prints of them less valuable to him in the marketplace. Cartoonists, singular creatures by nature, are of course also business folk

John Wilkes by William Hogarth @procartoonists
John Wilkes by William Hogarth @procartoonists

Today, while the commercial relationship between copyright and cartooning remains the same, the issues around it seem ever more complicated. Principally because the internet has made it easy to copy and distribute images instantly.

Contemporary cartoonists have tended to protect their work by publishing only small, low resolution versions of  images that would be unsuitable for subsequent printing.

But as the demand for print reproduction itself declines and technology moves on, cartoons will instead be viewed on larger, higher-resolution devices, monitors and retina displays.

These may come to render small images unreadable and blurry perhaps forcing those using digital distribution to load artwork at higher quality resolutions.

Taken in combination with the larger file sizes allowed by broadband download speeds it may soon be hard to protect the use of what used to be known as ‘print resolution artwork’.

There is some evidence to this assertion in a story we noted recently. Read – Does my cartoon look big in this?

So, what should a cartoonist do? Watch this space in the coming weeks.


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