[non-member submission] Another view of the dispute between Pathfinder and MIA

Les Schaffer godzilla at SPAMnetmeg.net
Sun Oct 8 21:32:30 MDT 2000

[from Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net]

Well, I know many people are preoccupied with sitting shiva for the
Milosevic regime right now, buy I want to make a few comments on the
discussion carrying the highly premature headline, "Barnesites suing
MIA," the Marxist I nternet Archive.  This discussion is being carried
out in the calm, objective, fact-oriented tone that characterizes
discussions of matters that touch on the Socialist Workers Party in
the mailing llist ("Barnes is real scum."}.  I'm a former party member
and that definitely colors how I look at it.

The entire discussion of intellectual property is beside the point.
The SWP is not Time Warner, any more than MIA is Napster.  Nor,
contrary to some assertions, can any guidance be found on how the
workers movement should handle copyright problems in the framework of
a capitalist society in the writings of Marx and Engels.

The Socialist Workers Party, which supports Pathfinder politically, is
a an organization of several hundred cadres and a few hundred more
organized youth and supprters. Pathfinder books make no profit but
have to be heavily subsidized by voluntary contributions of supporters
of these publications.  What is involved here is not intellectual
property in the cloudy sense that term is usually used but enormous
quantities of human labor power (12-hour days by editors, translators
and printers, the activities of the volunteers on the digitization
project, the wages of contributors, and so on..

If the copyrights are lost, Pathfinder would become much more
difficult if not impossible to sustain.  Copyrights that are not
respected and protected are lost.  That is the law.  The loss of
Pathfinder would be an enormous loss to the availability of the
writings of Trotsky, Castro, Malcolm X and others.  Pathfinder is not
restricting their circulation but to a large extent making it

Consulting Pathfinder for permission to use materials they have
published ought to be a reflex of solidarity among people considering
themselves Marxists.  I suspect that the failure to adhere to this has
something to do with political antagonism to the current that
politicaly supports Pathfinder.

It is true that Pathfinder books are not primarily aimed at those who
already regard themselves as Marxists, but are actively distributed
among union fighters in the meatpackiing, garment, coal and other

As for those wicked Park Avenue lawyers, its always been my view that
if you decide to hire a lawyer, it is wise to employ a good one rather
than an incompetent.  I know that if I am ever framed up for murder, I
plan to call Johnnie Cochran first.  The rest will just have to wait
their turn.

This is the not the first time that people who disagreed politically
with the SWP attempted to challenge Pathfinder's copyrights.  In the
early 1990s a group of Black nationalists attempted to put out a book
about Malcolm X including long quotations taken without permission
from Pathfinder books.  As a matter of self-defense Pathfinder had to
take action similar to what has happened in this case.  The
nationalist group attempted to scandalize Pathfinder in the media and
even proclaimed a boycott of Pathfinder books. in Harlem.  This effort
bombed. In the end the author and Pathfinder reached a settlement out
of court that appeared to be satisfactory to all concerned.

I think the MIA should recognize Pathfinder's rights in this matter
and settle the differences on that basis.

The yelling about intellectual property and Marxist opposition to the
same reminds me a lot of the people I would meet selling on
streetcorners who would claim that if I was a sincere communist I
would give the Militant away rather than sell it.  They were not my
favorite people.  As long as capitalist society exists, the labor
theory of value cannot be wished out of existence even for communist
newspapers or the writings of Trotsky and Castro.

Fred Feldman
Newark, NJ

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