'Radical' Publisher Claims Copyright On Free Collection Of Marx And Engels Works; Orders Them Taken Down

from the because-copyright dept

I have to admit that I had no idea that the Marxist Internet Archive was even a thing, but apparently it is. And it’s in the midst of a copyright fight, because some folks representing publisher Lawrence & Wishart — who, it should be noted, declare themselves as “independent radical publishers” — have claimed a copyright on many of Marx and Engels’ works, and forced them offline. To be fair, the book they’re concerned about is the Marx/Engels Collected Works, which was translated and put together over the past few decades — meaning that new and unique elements of it may very well be under copyright. However, the underlying material, written in the mid-19th century, is absolutely in the public domain. And, yes, the Archive says that other translations of many of the same works will remain online, but the whole thing seems bizarre — especially given the general views of Marx and Engels. Amusingly, Scott McLemee at Crooked Timber has a decidedly capitalistic suggestion for why L&W might want to reconsider:

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.

Separately, he points out that economists at the other end of the spectrum seem to get this point pretty clearly:

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 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.

I do find it amusing, at times, when we talk about the importance of free as an economic concept, and how copyright abuses can cause serious problems — and then have people accuse us of being “communist.” To me, a centralized system of government granted monopolies that is used to stifle speech can, in many ways, be seen as much more communist than the alternative free market approach that I believe in. And now, it appears that the major supporters of Marxism apparently agree with the idea that copyright is a fundamentally Marxist approach — so much so that it means that no one can share Marx’s works!

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Comments on “'Radical' Publisher Claims Copyright On Free Collection Of Marx And Engels Works; Orders Them Taken Down”

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28 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Delicious, delicious irony...

I wouldn’t call copyright “Marxist.” Its current form is essentially everything he railed against in his manifesto. This isn’t to say that would Stalin wouldn’t have salivated over our current copyright laws (so long as the Party were the sole IP holder).

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Delicious, delicious irony...

Not really.

Communism is a classless, stateless society. Meaning you don’t have a rich or poor class.

Stalinist Russia required a strong state which was akin to FDR’s New Deal liberalism. Further, you didn’t give the workers their revolution in Russia since they weren’t in charge of the businesses, but the government officials were. That’s actually state capitalism, which again is the same as FDR’s New Deal.

What Marx meant when he discussed communism was that you had to go through a transitional phase which he termed “Socialism”, whereby the worker class owned the means of production. After such a transition, you have Communism, which is classless and stateless.

Basically, he wants a more democratic form of governance than what is available through capitalism, which is why he was such a critic of the capitalist classes. Such works being taken away from the public domain only spur more people to find reasons to take away capitalism and begin finding alternatives to it.

Within Reason says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Delicious, delicious irony...

The New Deal: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Deal

Nothing to do with state capitalism at all. Federal programs were enacted to aid the victims of an economic depression created by unfettered capitalism and an unregulated stock market.

What evidence do you have to support the notion that FDR’s New Deal was essentially state capitalism?

Anonymous Coward says:

“To be fair, the book they’re concerned about is the Marx/Engels Collected Works, which was translated and put together over the past few decades — meaning that new and unique elements of it may very well be under copyright.”

There needs to be some sort of editorial creativity involved for that to be the case. There also needs to be actual copying: ending up with an identical list of compiled works by coincidence would not be considered infringement.

The problem here appears to be not so much that they’ve included the same works (there is no editorial creativity involved in “let’s include everything they’ve ever written”), but that they’ve used the same, copyrighted translations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

We have this 19th century US case law that says translation is a new work owned by translator. Some of countries do not recognize this line and have legislations to the contrary: author owns translation too.

It needs to be revisited, because translation is usually very creative. Languages evolve, and translation from 1850 will be way different then from 1930 or from 2007.

Juan Fajardo (user link) says:

Lawrence & Wishart shared a 3-way copyright with International Publishers and the USSR’s Progress Publishers on the translations that went into the MECW. L&W allowed the MIA to host transcriptions from the first 10 volumes (and a few other items) of the MECW for almost a decade, with the understanding that that permission could be withdrawn at any time. Citing financial needs, L&W have now done that.

The Marxists Internet Archive, while understandably disappointed in this development, appreciates the time L&W did let us host those items and hopes to work with L&W in the future.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So from an activist’s point-of-view, what is better for society?

Letting these more recent works of Marx and Engels be freely distributed far and wide or letting a radical publisher (i’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here) profit off of the state-imposed monopoly of the distribution of those works so that the publisher may re-invest that money in their operation and help distribute/disseminate material as they see fit?

Jon says:

Copyrights are communist?!

What the hell is communist about a copyright? Copyrights are private property. It’s the opposite of communism. It’s still incredibly ironic to have Marx’s works taken offline via copyright, but the little editorial at the end about the free market was asinine. If you’re going to make a comment about Marxism and communism, at least look it up. Five minutes on wikipedia. C’mon.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyrights are communist?!

Jon still has a point that copyright isn’t communist.

Having publishers use copyright to create a new market and take things out of reach even though Marx spoke out against such functions of capitalism point out the irony of the situation, but communism is all about a classless, stateless society, meaning no way for a government to impose monopoly rents for publishers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Translations

Translations are separately copyrightable as original works, assuming they’re translated by a human who makes creative judgments in the course of the work. As Juan Fajardo notes above, it is recent translations that are being pulled down.

I’m not aware of case law on mechanical translations, but the principles of copyright law dictate that a purely “mechanical” translation would be un copyrightable, IMHO.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Translations

With that bit of information, I agree that the copyright is valid.

But it is still extremely ironic and overwhelmingly hypocritical for a publisher that considers themselves to be radical and pro-Marxist and features troves of books that are extremely critical of capitalism to wield a tool of capitalism to hold a monopoly on the dissemination of the translated works of Marx and Engels.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:

Lawrence and Wishart have already lost

Since the Archive with its existing contents is likely to be mirrored before this is over, and downloadable versions of both the entire Archive and Marx & Engels Collected Works are both available online, this is apt to be moot.

https://thepiratebay.se/torrent/6231000/Marxists.org_-_full_English_language_archive

http://www.sendspace.com/file/l7wx0o

Lawrence and Wishart are about to find out they’re just as impotent as the music industry.

Within Reason says:

I do find it amusing, at times, when we talk about the importance of free as an economic concept, and how copyright abuses can cause serious problems — and then have people accuse us of being “communist.”

That particular AC hasn’t been around for a while, Mike. However, I have seen various commenters accuse you of some form of left/liberalism for the views you hold and that’s very misguided. In any case, we humans are social creatures and the free exchange of cultural artifacts and items is essential to the wellbeing of a healthy society. And a healthy society is essential to a healthy economy.

To me, a centralized system of government granted monopolies that is used to stifle speech can, in many ways, be seen as much more communist than the alternative free market approach that I believe in.

Hmmm… I’ve got a lot of problems with the term “Free Market,” basically because it’s being used as the linchpin of an ideology that means screwing the public and giving our money to the rich. Seriously, don’t get me started on the dubious benefits of supply-side economics or the Austrian School. Mind you, I’m not too keen on Socialism or Communism either. Claiming that we simply must have one or the other is a false dichotomy logical fallacy. Other options exist.

In any case, both sides of the false dichotomy engage in censorship. “You must be a liberal socialist!”, anyone? I’ve been called that so many times I’ve lost count. While the supply-side crowd will often pay a hefty amount of lip service to the notion that corporations should be broken up and monopolies banned, I can’t recall any of the Libertarian-leaning Representatives ever voting against mergers, copyright expansion, patent reforms etc., that were against the public interest.

Since the market will never be totally free, could we call it something else, please? “Fair” or “open” market, perhaps. A fair or open market would permit no special privileges for either suppliers or those on the demand side, and I’ve always assumed that’s what you mean by the term “Free market.”

And now, it appears that the major supporters of Marxism apparently agree with the idea that copyright is a fundamentally Marxist approach — so much so that it means that no one can share Marx’s works!

The basic problem I have with Marxism in any form is the same one I have with Libertarianism/Free Market/Supply-side, etc.: the naive assumption of equality of entry and opportunity. The insistence on denying human nature and the refusal to contemplate compensating for it. The sheer audacity of proclaiming that either the state is “the people” or “the people don’t need no steenking state.”

In this case, the hypocrisy is nothing new; it’s okay because their team are doing it. Should they discover anyone they consider to be on the opposing side doing the same thing, expect fireworks ? and no sense of irony.

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