Socialist publisher asserts private ownership of Marxist writings that were free online


marxThe Marxists Internet Archive, a Website that hosts the works of socialist philosopher Karl Marx, has removed some of his writings from the public domain following a property rights complaint lodged by a United Kingdom-based publisher, according to a story in the New Yorker.

From the New Yorker: “For nine years, Lawrence & Wishart allowed the Marxists Internet Archive to host the copyrighted material alongside thousands of other translated texts by Marx and Engels, many of which are in the public domain. But the company recently began preparing a digital edition of the fifty-volume set for university libraries. (The e-book price has yet to be determined; a print version costs about fifteen hundred dollars.)”

Like good capitalists, the publishers at Lawrence & Wishart understand that demand for their e-books would have been undermined by the existence of a free, identical product. So, using the system of private enterprise and private property ownership Marx built his career assailing, the publishers have protected their property rights. Can you say irony?

More from the New Yorker:

After the Facebook post, writers from all over the progressive Internet expressed outrage. The Center for a Stateless Society asked, “With ‘Socialists’ Like Lawrence and Wishart, Who Needs Capitalists?” A Change.orgpetition appeared, lamenting the irony of a private publishing house claiming ownership over “the collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the philosophers who wrote against the monopoly of capitalism and its origin, private property, all their lives.” As of Monday, the petition had more than five thousand signatures. Several sites unaffiliated with the Archive began hosting the digitized texts in defiance of the publisher’s copyright claims. On April 25th, Lawrence & Wishart posted a response of its own to this “campaign of online abuse,” arguing that the inflamed rhetoric was a perversion of Marx’s concept of the capitalist mode of production. The Archive responded with a missive of its own, written by Walters, which, in turn, prompted yet another response from Lawrence & Wishart.

The legality of these claims is not in question. Both sides agree that Lawrence & Wishart is within its legal rights, and the Archive has already removed the offending material. (It’s not the first time its volunteers have conceded to a takedown notice, Walters told me.) For committed leftists and bemused observers, what is at stake is whether the Marxist publishing house behaved in an “uncomradely” way.

Read the full story here.


About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.