The Marxist Internet Archive, a nonprofit online library of Communist texts, has received a copyright violation notice from a publishing house called Lawrence & Wishart asking for the site to remove all material from a book called “Marx and Engels Collected Works“(via MetaFilter).
Lawrence & Wishart, which bills itself as being for “independent radical publishing,” holds the copyright to “Marx and Engels Collected Works” (often abbreviated to MECW). Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the fathers of Marxist political theory, and this is a foundational book in Communist politics.
Nine years ago, the publisher gave the Marxist Internet Archive permission to republish the first ten volumes of the collection online for free (there are 50 volumes in total), but this permission was revoked as Lawrence & Wishart gears up to offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries around the world. The publisher wants to see it gone from the site by May 1, 2014, just two days from now.
This draws criticism of the publisher’s actions as being capitalistic, which it is quick to dismiss: “L&W is not a capitalist organisation engaged in profit-seeking or capital accumulation. … 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.”
Alex Golub, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, writes that “[a]t 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?”
A representative for Lawrence & Wishart told us that “we do not choose the conditions in which we operate — our ideal publishing environment would involve a flourishing public sphere of well funded libraries and educational institutions that would enable everyone to have access to all the books they could possibly wish for. Unfortunately this is not the current situation so we have to do our best in conditions not of our choosing.”