Q. But why shouldn't I? Who would it hurt?
Good question. In the short run, maybe it wouldn't hurt anyone. But remember that copyright law exists to encourage the "useful arts" by ensuring that artists profit from their creations. If you upload those cartoons and give them away for free, and later the New Yorker decides to create its own for-profit online service that offers cartoon downloading, your action would have affected their potential market. And, at least in theory, that could ultimately discourage the New Yorker from printing cartoons at all, which would be a sad day for everyone.
In addition, if the folks at the New Yorker get wind of your activity, they might not take it kindly. And they might have the resources to sue you and make your life very unpleasant.
In summary, remember: Copyright isn't just good Netiquette -- it's the law.
The promise of Xanadu (it'll be ready in 6 months)
You may have heard of Xanadu or of Ted Nelson. Nelson, a certified Brilliant Guy, came up with the idea for Xanadu in the early 1960s. Ever since then, he's been swearing it's going to be available in six months.
But whether or not Xanadu ever comes to fruition, it's a really interesting idea. Among other things, it's a technical solution to the legal and ethical problem of maintaining copyright in cyberspace.
Xanadu would be -- or will be -- a huge repository of published information. It could contain anything -- music, reference material, stories, movies, you name it. Users would connect to it from outside and read or download as much or as little information as they liked. And -- here's the really clever part -- users would automatically be charged for their usage, and a royalty would automatically go to the author.
There's a lot more to Xanadu than that. If you're interested, I recommend Nelson's 1974 book
Computer Lib/Dream Machines, which was
Microsoft Press in 1987.