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April 29, 2014 3:33 AM   Subscribe

The non-profit digital library of Marxist texts, The Marxist Internet Archive, has received a copyright take-down request from the radical publishing house Lawrence and Wishart, asking that all material from the Marx and Engels Collected Works be removed from the site by May 1 2014.

Reaction to the request has been uniformly negative, with Crooked Timber's Scott McLemee writing that "the idea that most of [Marx and Engels'] work is going to be removed from the website on May Day is just grotesque." Lawrence and Wishart's defence of their actions, which calls the criticisms a "campaign of online abuse" motivated by "sectarian concerns" and notes that the works are soon to be licensed for distribution in "the public sphere of the academic library" has not exactly succeeded in winning over its critics. There is now a petition against Lawrence and Wishart's actions on change.org.
posted by Sonny Jim (55 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
If only there were another Internet Archive that could spider and replicate such a resource...
posted by trackofalljades at 3:56 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


From L&W's response: " At the same time they are reproducing the norms and expectations not of the socialist and communist traditions, but of a consumer culture which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers, leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid, while the large publishing and other media conglomerates and aggregators continue to enrich themselves through advertising and data-mining revenues and through their far greater institutional weight compared to small independent publishers."

tl:dr; even communists are capitalists now
posted by Avenger at 4:00 AM on April 29 [20 favorites]


Lawrence and Wishart do not come out of this looking especially good, do they? I especially like the Savage Minds takedown of their statement (linked as 'winning over' in the FPP):

Lawerence and Wishart [...] argue that little of the content of marxists.org will be affected by this change; that radical publishers have done this before and they are not therefore betraying their values; that many other editions of Marx and Engels will still be available; and that they need the revenue to keep their tiny, values-driven press afloat.

Its hard not to be sympathetic to a lot of these claims. But at the end of the day I still think Lawrence & Wishart have made the wrong decision. If only a small portion of the collected works are up at marxists.org, then why view this as competition? If most of Marx and Engels’s work is already available online open access, then why bank on selling a new digital edition that will cost more and offer only a little additional material?


In my experience of academic libraries, the existence of partial copies of things open-access on the public internet outside of any sort of formalised academia has no bearing on their purchasing or licensing decisions whatsoever. The line of argument strikes me as bizarre, as much so as the argument that taking things off a free public-access website in order to have them hosted - paid for - as academic library resources constitutes an effort to increase public access. Really sounds to me like L&W just want to fence off what they're seeing as their cash cow, which is pretty egregious in the context of the works in question...
posted by Dysk at 4:00 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


I think the late 20th, early 21st century is going to be remembered, one day, as a kind of massive global Meiji restoration, a massive sea-change in the organizational and cultural climate of an entire civilization (or, in this case, human civilization).

It will be remembered as the time period in which human civilization went from community and nation-based to a purely individualistic/capitalistic ethos, where even radical Marxists loudly defend their private property rights and subsistence wages and where even the thoughts of long-dead philosophers are considered a valuable monetized commodity.

Very interesting times, indeed.
posted by Avenger at 4:03 AM on April 29 [13 favorites]


A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of IP abuse. Only this time all the powers of the New World and of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to accommodate this spectre.
posted by ersatz at 4:05 AM on April 29 [8 favorites]


No but wait, I'm sure I remember a short 60 page chapter of dense type that explained in close detail where the benefits lay to the masses of the proletariat of having a justification and rationalization of the commander being allowed total hypocrisy. Or was that Rand?
posted by sammyo at 4:17 AM on April 29


Intellectual Property is Theft
posted by KingEdRa at 4:19 AM on April 29 [10 favorites]


Rent seeking parasites. No surprise they're descended from the CPGB, whose greatest achievement was always the continued existence of jobs for the boys.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:21 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


Marxism: communism for the people who want your stuff.
posted by cthuljew at 4:22 AM on April 29


leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid

Am I missing something here, or has the content in question already been written, edited, and published many, many years ago? And now the internet has come along and made their particular niche of republishing this stuff less necessary? This seems like rent-seeking of a queer sort. A resource moves beyond scarcity, and they move to cut supply and make it scarce again.
posted by Jimbob at 4:24 AM on April 29 [16 favorites]


> Intellectual Property is Theft

I'm pretty sure Proudhon would have resented being called a Communist.
posted by ardgedee at 4:26 AM on April 29 [7 favorites]


I think you mean "theft is property".
posted by blue_beetle at 4:30 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


Here's the deal. Lawrence & Wishart (UK) was one of a triad of publishers, along with International Publishers (USA) and Progress Publishers (USSR) that started publishing the Marx/Engels Collected Works in English in 1975. Progress Publishers of course stopped being a state-run publishing house in the early 1990s, but IP and L&W finished the 50-volume series in 2005.

Up until this month, Lawrence & Wishart gave Marxists Internet Archive limited rights to publish the works translated specifically for MECW (in exchange for helping with the project of digitalizing said works), with the right to withdraw at any time. They invoked that right this month. It's not a copyright claim, and MIA has stated that they disagree politically with L&W but that it's not the situation that it's being presented as of some kind of copyright crackdown.

This isn't the full works of Marx and Engels being taken down; it's only items from the first 10 volumes (which go up to 1851) which were specifically translated for MECW. So it's also not like the Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts or The German Ideology or The Poverty of Philosophy or The Communist Manifesto or Class Struggles in France or the Peasant War in Germany are going to be removed; I'm not sure about the Neue Reinische Zeitung or their other more obscure work that wasn't translated until MECW, which is really what's targeted here.

I disagree strongly with what L&W is doing, but I do think people should be correct about what is affected here.
posted by graymouser at 4:34 AM on April 29 [26 favorites]


Hey, that portion of the intellectual bourgeoisie which is grafted onto the proletarian revolutionary vanguard gotta eat, yo.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:45 AM on April 29 [9 favorites]


graymouser, a lot of that information is in the Crooked Timber post by an MIA representative linked in the FPP under "succeeded":
As we at MIA understand it the MECW was always a joint project of Progress, L&W and International Publishers (NY). The copyright exists on the newly translated works that emerged from this project. The reason that only volumes 1 to 10 are at stake here is that during the 1990s a number of volunteers started to digitise the MECW. They had got to volume 10 when MIA was contacted by representatives of the consortium pointing out that the new translations were under copyright. We have never contested this claim and it has been the basis of our actions throughout.

An agreement was reached that MIA could keep the 10 volumes online subject to the agreement of all the copyright holders. At MIA we don’t have the resources to fight a long case in the bourgeois courts over the exact status of Progress Publishers etc. And we have no interest in bankrupting a small radical publisher if we did indeed win a court case after a couple of decades – indeed legal fees would probably have bankrupted all parties concerned long before a decision was ever reached by the courts.
So the "right" L&W had to withdraw from the agreement that they're now exercising is ultimately a copyright. And from all appearances they are enforcing that copyright now because they are in the process of trying to license it to an online publishing consortium for on-sale to university libraries, a transaction they expect to bring them money. As their statement notes, "We now ... have an opportunity to recover some of the costs" of editing and translation. I'd also note that the word "copyright" appears no fewer than 12 times in the brief statement on the L&W website.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:53 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


if your archive of revolutionary documents is threatened by a breach of contract/copyright take down... then it isn't much of a revolution.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:05 AM on April 29


The revolution will be monetized.
posted by jquinby at 5:05 AM on April 29 [11 favorites]


sounds like someone needs a spell hoeing turnips for the people
posted by thelonius at 5:47 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I've been meaning to write a book called "A Communist's Field Guide to Survival in a Capitalist World." Sounds like these folks would need it, but maybe not pay for it.
posted by miyabo at 6:18 AM on April 29


The Left's unofficial favorite webcomic, Great Moments in Leftism, weighed in on the controversy recently.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 6:19 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


Is this one of those deals where a particular translation is copyrighted? Surely the German text is public domain after ~150 years.
posted by thelonius at 6:27 AM on April 29


Ah, this has been covered, never mind.
posted by thelonius at 6:28 AM on April 29


Sonny Jim:

The basic framing that is going around, including in this post, is precisely that this is some DMCA-type copyright takedown that Lawrence & Wishart is suddenly pulling on the MIA. That's just not true. It's the termination of the agreement that previously existed between the triad of copyright-holders and the MIA. It's foolish and myopic, but the end of a license is different from a DMCA or similar claim.

What I'd like to see is a specific list of what's going to be taken down. I imagine it's probably a large amount of specialist material from 1842-1851 – we'll still have pretty much anything that would go into the selected works. Which sucks but it's not like the MIA is suddenly going to lose The Communist Manifesto or anything most non-experts would have heard of.
posted by graymouser at 6:31 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


It's also worth taking a moment to appreciate exactly how goddamn much these two men wrote. I mean, seriously, in a pre-Internet, pre-typewriter era when things had to be written out by hand and then meticulously typeset, they wrote so much material that it takes 28 volumes to fit their political and philosophical writings, 10 for Marx's economic works and another 13 for their correspondence. That's staggering. (Until you consider Lenin, whose works as a single writer take up 45 volumes.)
posted by graymouser at 6:47 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


It's also worth taking a moment to appreciate exactly how goddamn much these two men wrote.

This is what you can get done when you are not obsessively reading, posting, and commenting on MetaFilter, the true opiate of the People....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:52 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


When you're in business, you're in business all the way.
posted by tommasz at 7:38 AM on April 29


I disagree strongly with what L&W is doing, but I do think people should be correct about what is affected here.

"Correct" is the enemy of "right".
posted by Reyturner at 7:46 AM on April 29


Is this one of those deals where a particular translation is copyrighted? Surely the German text is public domain after ~150 years.

It would be nice if the publicity L&W has attracted as a result of their cash-out got someone interested in doing a new alternative English translation, put it directly into the public domain, and cut them out of the loop.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:55 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


This is what you can get done when you are not obsessively reading, posting, and commenting on MetaFilter, the true opiate of the People....

I figure my MetaFilter comments count as correspondence after a fashion and fully expect them to be collected and published alongside my e-mails and LiveJournal at some point after my death. I also know that future readers of the Complete Works of Copronymus will thrill to see pearls of my wisdom like that time I quoted a Matchbox 20 song for humorous effect or any of several times I've shared my thoughts on the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.
posted by Copronymus at 8:06 AM on April 29 [7 favorites]


It would be nice if the publicity L&W has attracted as a result of their cash-out got someone interested in doing a new alternative English translation, put it directly into the public domain, and cut them out of the loop.


I think they should crowd-source it. I look forward to leafing through my new edition of the Grundlerisse.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:47 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I also know that future readers of the Complete Works of Copronymus will thrill to see pearls of my wisdom....

It kind of worked for Martin Luther (and HP Lovecraft). Get working on your very own paradigm shift!
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:48 AM on April 29


I think they should crowd-source it.

From each according to their ability to translate German, to each according to their interest in Marx?
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:49 AM on April 29


Neither Marx nor Engels made a habitual practice of surrendering the copyright of their works or of forgoing royalties. Marx was, famously, bitterly disappointed that he didn't make more money from the initial sales of Das Kapital. By the end of his life he was receiving a pretty steady stream of income from the royalties of his various publications.

I'm not entirely clear why, if that was good enough for Marx himself, it's a dreadful betrayal of communist ideals for the (currently living) editors and translators of his works to seek some kind of remuneration for their intellectual labor.
posted by yoink at 9:11 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


[Sorry, internet, but there’s no problem with asserting copyright over translations of Marx]
posted by zbsachs at 9:19 AM on April 29


I'm not entirely clear why, if that was good enough for Marx himself, it's a dreadful betrayal of communist ideals for the (currently living) editors and translators of his works to seek some kind of remuneration for their intellectual labor.

Because it was bullshit when Marx did it too. That's the thing about ideals contra reality.

(And 'some kind of remuneration'? Far and away most pieces commenting on this note the works in question were being published and sold in the 70s - in expensive hardback editions - and have almost certainly more than covered their costs several times. There is a difference between not losing on something, and trying to cash in on it.)
posted by Dysk at 9:27 AM on April 29


There is no legal problem with asserting copyright over translations of Marx. There is, apparently, one hell of a PR problem.
posted by Zalzidrax at 9:38 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Because it was bullshit when Marx did it too.

And what, exactly, was Marx supposed to live on as he did the research for and the composition of those writing which you, clearly, find so valuable? Or are you saying it would have been better for Marx to starve and write much, much less?

have almost certainly more than covered their costs several times.


"Covered their costs." Excuse me, but do you work for "cost"? Do you think who ever pays you for whatever it is that you do (or that you hope to do some day) should determine your pay based on that principle? That would mean, what, exactly? You should be paid exactly enough to keep you alive and to bring you to and from work each day, and no more. Is that your belief? Do you return anything over and above that amount to your employer because it's "bullshit" to earn more than what covers your "costs"?

People who do creative and intellectual work that gets paid based on royalties have to live in hope that some portion of the work they do will earn substantially more than "cost" to cover the many efforts that fail to return even that much.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


Apparently it's unacceptably bourgeois to want to be paid money for translating things.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:31 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Very very clever... Suddenly the whole world is talking about Marx... People are discussing 'pirating' (and then presumably reading???) this material (which is still available for people to download - for a limited time only, act now, this sale won't last!).

I see what they did there.

Well done, well done.
posted by el io at 11:25 AM on April 29


tl:dr; even communists are capitalists now

Everyone has to pay the bills...that whole reality thing kind of takes the fun out of everything...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:40 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


People who do creative and intellectual work that gets paid based on royalties have to live in hope that some portion of the work they do will earn substantially more than "cost" to cover the many efforts that fail to return even that much.
posted by yoink at 10:11 AM on April 29 [2 favorites +] [!]


That's called "profit" and....

....nevermind.
posted by Avenger at 11:56 AM on April 29


from each according to one's ability, to each according to one's greed
posted by pyramid termite at 12:44 PM on April 29


So it's capitalistic to want to be paid for your work, and so you're a hypocrite for wanting to be paid for your work while calling yourself a communist..

is this some form of Fox News mockery? I remember similar arguments made against Occupy protesters for being anti-corporation (okay, kind of a crude characterization) but yet buying signs from corporations (and practically everything else they own and consume) on which to display their anti-corporation slogans.
posted by SollosQ at 12:54 PM on April 29


Apparently it's unacceptably bourgeois to want to be paid money for translating things.

Wait, are the actual translators going to get paid again when the new editions are sold? Or just the people who fronted the capital originally? Because if it's the latter, right or wrong that is pretty bourgeois.
posted by No-sword at 2:59 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


"Covered their costs." Excuse me, but do you work for "cost"?

Did you miss the bit about 'several times'? And who's saying wages aren't included in said cost?
posted by Dysk at 3:23 PM on April 29


Wait, are the actual translators going to get paid again when the new editions are sold? Or just the people who fronted the capital originally? Because if it's the latter, right or wrong that is pretty bourgeois.

So how many copies get to be printed before it becomes bourgeois to want to be paid for each one thereafter? Because it sounds like your ideal business model will lead to translators getting paid nothing, and works never being translated as a result.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 4:37 PM on April 29


First of all, I didn't say anything about business models. You're seeing enemies where none exist. I'm just saying that I see no evidence that the translators will get paid any extra money here. (In my experience, that would be quite unusual in a case like this.) If we're talking about the publishers as copyright owners profiting from that ownership, it is by definition pretty bourgeois, no? Good- or badness of the bourgeoisie as such entirely notwithstanding. (For example, yeah, I know that they will probably use their profits to commission more new translations, thus eventually benefiting translators as a group. That doesn't change their role in the system, which again I am specifically not criticizing, calling worthless, etc.)

"Bourgeois" isn't just an insult and it struck me as funny in a thread about Marx's collected writings of all things to see it used that way.
posted by No-sword at 6:25 PM on April 29


Also how people don't seem to realize that capitalist systems aren't the only kinds of market based systems possible and that communism's critique was specifically a critique of capitalist markets--not a critique of people engaging in any and all trade. In fact, even the central planning stuff that people associate with communism was originally only supposed to be a transitional stage before true communism was achieved, in which all the means of production would be controlled not by a central state, but by the masses of skilled and unskilled workers themselves. It's like we're only discussing the distorted, cold war propaganda versions of the original ideas now. The basic idea--that no one should get to claim the bulk of the profits from someone else's labor just because they own the only factory and won't let anyone use it unless they agree to be fleeced, too--has been lost in all the noise of history.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:08 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


First of all, I didn't say anything about business models. You're seeing enemies where none exist. I'm just saying that I see no evidence that the translators will get paid any extra money here.

You're right; they got paid that money in 1975, based on the possibility that the publisher would be able to monetize it in the future.

the system, which again I am specifically not criticizing, calling worthless, etc.

Maybe you in particular aren't, but there's definitely a strong undercurrent in this thread of the publisher somehow betraying the legacy of Karl Marx by refusing to allow unlimited duplication for free of a translation they commissioned, and which likely would not exist at all but for someone having commissioned it.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:24 PM on April 29


Yes, I know how publishing works, and I know what other people in the thread are saying. That's why I chose my words carefully in an attempt to make a different point. I'm not going to get all pissy about it -- no doubt I should have been less arch to begin with -- but I was specifically hoping to avoid sparking yet another NO U subargument about copyright, and I'm not going to get dragged into one.
posted by No-sword at 7:48 PM on April 29


You're right; they got paid that money in 1975, based on the possibility that the publisher would be able to monetize it in the future.

Not many people in 1975 predicted the invention of the internet.
posted by moorooka at 9:19 PM on April 29


Is it wrong that my reaction to this situation is laughter?
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 8:14 AM on April 30


Proudhon was a communist. Proudhon's utopia was formed around communes. He just wasn't a Marxist.
posted by idiopath at 3:13 PM on April 30


Because it sounds like your ideal business model will lead to translators getting paid nothing, and works never being translated as a result.

I'm pretty skeptical of this. How many translators are really paid residuals? I suspect instead that the actual translator, like most any other worker, is paid upfront for their labor and the work product is owned by a corporation who sells the copies and receives the profit from it. That seems like a pretty straightforward example of worker/product alienation to me. You can really only easily defend it from a capitalist standpoint where the translator and the publishing companies are both rational, independent economic actors entering into a risk-premium tradeoff arrangement, where they each think they are having the better of the other.

In truth I am not (much of a) Marxist, but one of the standard arguments for Marxism is that it leads to more support for the arts, including literary arts and translation work, than a purely profit-driven capitalist system does. So to say that the absence of copyright would lead to nothing being translated seems to beg the question of the capitalist economic system in a way that I'd imagine most Marxists would be very uncomfortable with.
posted by Kadin2048 at 4:56 PM on April 30 [1 favorite]


What Marx Really Meant
posted by homunculus at 9:17 PM on April 30


« Older Exactly what the title says. A celebration of 26 ...  |  Politically speaking, "the mos... Newer »


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