[Marxism] Readers of Marx and Engels Decry Publisher’s Assertion of Copyright - Research - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 29 07:01:40 MDT 2014

(Chronicle of Higher Education is the major trade paper for higher 
education administrators and professors. Very important that it has 
weighed in.)


By Jennifer Howard

In a capitalist world, even a radical publishing house devoted to the 
works of socialist thinkers has to make money to survive. That’s the 
argument being used by Lawrence & Wishart, a London-based publisher, to 
explain why it has asked the Marxists Internet Archive, a volunteer-run 
online collection of socialist writers’ works, to remove from the 
website copyrighted material from the publisher’s Marx Engels Collected 
Works by April 30.

The publisher says it wants to market a digital edition to libraries in 
order to keep itself in business. While the Marxists Internet Archive is 
not contesting the company’s right to enforce its copyright, news of its 
request set off an outcry from some observers and supporters of the archive.

"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," wrote the columnist and critic Scott McLemee 
in an April 24 post on the Crooked Timber blog.

More than 4,000 people have now signed a petition on Change.org calling 
for an end to copyright on Marx and Engels’s work. "Privatization of 
Marx and Engels’ writings is like getting a trademark for the words 
‘socialism’ or ‘communism,’" the petition says.

Compiled over a quarter-century beginning in 1975, the 50-volume 
Collected Works includes English translations of not just blockbusters 
like The Communist Manifesto but also harder-to-find and less-familiar 
published and unpublished articles, letters, and other writings. 
Lawrence & Wishart jointly holds the copyright with two other publishing 
houses, International Publishers and Progress Publishers.

Plenty of Marx and Engels’s work is in the public domain. One doesn’t 
need to be a member of a privileged class—with access to a university 
library, for instance—to find freely available editions of Das Kapital.

"In this case, what is copyrighted is the specific translations, the 
considerable notes, etc.," said Betty Smith, president of International 
Publishers, in an email.

In response to its critics, Lawrence & Wishart posted a statement on its 
website assailing what it called a "campaign of online abuse" and 
defending its decision to enforce its copyright. It said that it 
"survives on a shoestring" and argued that its continued existence 
depends on its being able to derive income from its stake in the 
Collected Works.

"We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will 
offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries 
worldwide," the publisher said. "This will have the effect of 
maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the 
academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons 
that reimburses publishers, authors, and translators for the work that 
has gone into creating a book or series of books."

The publisher defended its history and record as a radical publishing 
enterprise, suggesting that its critics should direct their anger elsewhere.

"We would suggest that if online activists wish to attack targets in the 
publishing industry who truly do derive huge profits from the 
exploitation of their workers and from catalogues filled with radical 
political thought, then there are far-more-appropriate targets for them 
to direct their anger towards than a tiny British publishing house with 
no shareholders and a small, ill-paid staff," it said.
‘Simple Factual Notice’

Andy Blunden has been part of the volunteer collective that runs the 
nonprofit Marxists Internet Archive for about 15 years. He told The 
Chronicle that he was authorized to speak for the group, and that it 
does not contest Lawrence & Wishart’s copyright on the material at 
stake—some 1,662 files, "really quite a small percentage" of everything 
in the Collected Works, he said. (It’s also a tiny fraction of the 
archive’s total contents, which include the writings of hundreds of 
authors in dozens of languages.)

According to him, the archive has not been a party to the criticism 
lobbed at the publisher. "We put a simple factual notice on our main 
page, and we put that on our Facebook page," Mr. Blunden said. "We feel 
that it’s improper of us to go out and agitate and say bad things about 
Lawrence & Wishart. We’re trying to be quite restrained about this. It’s 
down to our readers, really, to defend us."

He said that the archive last had talks with Lawrence & Wishart around 
2005, at which time the publisher agreed to let the archive continue to 
host the Collected Works material. But "it was always up to them at some 
point to call an end, which they did about a week ago," Mr. Blunden said.

While scholars and others with access to good research collections will 
still be able to make use of the entire Collected Works, Mr. Blunden 
said he worries about "the ordinary Joe" who lacks that kind of access, 
especially to lesser-known writings that help set Marx and Engels’s 
thinking in a broader context.

The Collected Works, he noted, were assembled during the years of the 
Soviet Union’s collapse. "To withdraw this material, even though it’s a 
small part of what’s getting read today, is in a sense to throw the 
understanding of Marxism back" decades—"to reduce it to that corpus of 
well-known works that have been quoted for a century," Mr. Blunden said. 
"The professors and the historians will be able to write learned 
articles about what Marx said, but the general population are going to 
be left back in 1975" in trying to understand Marx and Engels’s thinking.

The Marxists Internet Archive is heavily used by "a broad spectrum of 
people" around the world, according to Mr. Blunden. Before the recent 
flap, the site was getting a quarter of a million page views a day, he said.

Jonathan Sperber, a professor of history at the University of Missouri 
at Columbia and a noted expert on Karl Marx, called the archive "a 
useful resource" but said that the translations are a mixed bag. Serious 
scholars of Marx and Engels ought to be using the 
Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe, which is "by far the most scholarly edition 
and prints all the material in the original language in which it was 
written," Mr. Sperber said by email. "For classroom use, there are 
plenty of cheap paperback editions of Marxist classics" and anthologies 
of the two thinkers’ works.

But Lawrence & Wishart’s decision could make it harder "for people at 
small colleges without good libraries, or who have no academic 
affiliation, and would like to study some of the less well-known and 
less easily accessible parts of Marx and Engels’s oeuvre," Mr. Sperber said.

He expressed some sympathy for Lawrence & Wishart. "Publishers in 
general have a hard enough time these days earning enough on books to 
keep publishing them," he said. "Small left-wing publishing houses find 
it more difficult than most."

Still, it’s "unfortunate that a left-wing publishing house would want to 
restrict access to the works of a major left-wing thinker to those 
affiliated with a university or college library that can afford to 
purchase L&W’s new digital edition," Mr. Sperber said. "Hegel, to name 
someone who was a big influence on Marx, once described a tragedy as ‘a 
conflict of two rights.’ That seems to sum up the situation."
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