Should Marx and Engels be copyrighted?

April 26, 2014

The UK publisher Lawrence & Wishart has instructed the Marxist Internet Archive (MIA) to remove material from the Marx-Engels Collected Works (MECW) from its website by the end of this month (just in time for International Workers' Day on May 1). As Andrew Leonard asks at Salon, quoting the introduction to Volume 1 of MECW, 'I wonder — just how angry would Karl Marx get if he learned that the publisher of his collected works, in the name of maximizing profits, was using copyright law to hinder the cause of “equipping the working-class movement with the scientific ideology… for the realization… of communism”?' The publisher has justified its decision here. MIA has responded here. You can sign a petition protesting this outrageous decision here. --PG

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Karlo Marx and Fredrich Engels / Came to the checkout at the 7-11
Crooked Timber

by Scott McLemee on April 24, 2014

Henry has nudged me a little, every so often, towards participating more in the life of Crooked Timber—or participating at all, really, since it’s been almost four years since my last posting. Fair enough. And so now, without further ado: Here I am again, ready to complain.

The Marxist Internet Archive (marxists.org) is a vast and growing resource, run entirely by donated labor, and as polylingual as circumstances permit. (Do they have Trotsky in Tagalog? Indeed they do.) Yesterday, a notice appeared in the Archive’s Facebook group, and also on its homepage, saying that Lawrence & Wishart’s lawyers demand removal of material from the Marx-Engels Collected Works: “Accordingly, from 30th April 2014, no material from MECW is available from marxists.org. English translations of Marx and Engels from other sources will continue to be available.”

Responding to L&W’s demand in a suitable manner would require someone with Marx’s or Engels’s knack for invective and scatology, and I’m not even going to try. But the idea that most of their work is going to be removed from the website on May Day is just grotesque.

Chances are the archive volunteers never contacted the press before putting the material up because they assumed, reasonably enough, that an edition prepared largely if not entirely with the support of old-fashioned, Soviet-era Moscow gold was not anybody’s private intellectual property—that the works of Marx and Engels now belong to the commons. They just want people to be able to read Marx and Engels.

Somehow it has not occurred to Lawrence & Wishart that, by enlarging the pool of people aware of and reading the Collected Works, the archive is actually expanding the audience (and potential market) for L & W’s books, including the somewhat pricey MECW volumes themselves, available only in hardback at $25-50 per volume. I’m stressing the bottom line here, given that the press’s decision is rational only on the narrowest conception of it. But a piece of synchronicity involving another CTer underscores just how much the left can learn from, of all things, the sectarian right:

About the time the Marxist Internet Archive announced that it would be taking down all the MECW material, Corey and I both, by coincidence, were availing ourselves of radically under-priced materials from the enemy’s publishing apparatus. He’d received an order containing dirt-cheap copies of Bastiat from the Liberty Fund, while a day earlier I had downloaded free digital editions of the major Austrian School books on theory of value and the socialist-calculation debate from the Mises Institute website. There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing.

If Lawrence & Wishart still considers itself a socialist institution, its treatment of the Archive is uncomradely at best, and arguably much worse; while if the press is now purely a capitalist enterprise, its behavior is merely stupid. I hope some of you will get in touch with the press to say that, or something else appropriate. Here’s the contact information:

Lawrence & Wishart
99a Wallis Road
London E9 5LN
subs and orders:
T: 01621 741607
editorial:
T: 020 8533 2506
F: 020 8533 736

Managing Editor: Sally Davison. [email protected]
Finance Director: Avis Greenaway. [email protected]
Permissions: [email protected]
Website: Becky Luff [email protected]
Promotions: Katharine Harris [email protected]

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