Claiming a Copyright on Marx? How Uncomradely


Noam Cohen in the NYT (photo Jason Henry for The New York Times):

The Marxist Internet Archive, a website devoted to radical writers and thinkers, recently received an email: It must take down hundreds of works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels or face legal consequences.

The warning didn’t come from a multinational media conglomerate but from a small, leftist publisher, Lawrence & Wishart, which asserted copyright ownership over the 50-volume, English-language edition of Marx’s and Engels’s writings.

To some, it was “uncomradely” that fellow radicals would deploy the capitalist tool of intellectual property law to keep Marx’s and Engels’s writings off the Internet. And it wasn’t lost on the archive’s supporters that the deadline for complying with the order came on the eve of May 1, International Workers’ Day.

“Marx and Engels belong to the working class of the world spiritually, they are that important,” said David Walters, one of the organizers of the Marxist archive. “I would think Marx would want the most prolific and free distribution of his ideas possible — he wasn’t in it for the money.”

Still, Mr. Walters said the archive respected the publisher’s copyright, which covers the translated works, not the German originals from the 19th century. On Wednesday, the archive removed the disputed writings with a note blaming the publisher and a bold headline: “File No Longer Available!”

The fight over online control of Marx’s works comes at a historical moment when his ideas have found a new relevance, whether because the financial crisis of 2008 shook people’s confidence in global capitalism or, with the passage of time, the Marx name has become less shackled to the legacy of the Soviet Union. The unlikely best seller by the French economist Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the 21st Century,” harks back to Marx’s work, examining historical trends toward inequality in wealth.

More here.