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Copyright and the Marxists Archive April 25, 2014

Posted by Oireachtas Retort in Internet, Marxism.

As noted by Mark P.

A statement on Marxists.org

Lawrence & Wishart, who own the copyright for the Marx Engels Collected Works, have directed us to delete all texts copied from MECW Volume 1 through 10. Accordingly, from 30th April 2014, no material from MECW is available from marxists.org.
English translations of Marx and Engels from other sources will continue to be available.

The details aren’t entirely clear, I presume the website are not at liberty to disclose much more, but this is a potentially interesting one. One notable comment I spotted

L&W own all post-1991 English translations of Marx and Engels, and all translations of Gramsci; Ocean Press own all translations in all languages of Che Guevara; Pathfinder Press own a large percentage of all English translations of Trotsky. All these organisations, were formerly Party presses, supported by the voluntary labour of dedicated Marxists, are now capitalist firms, and all are enforcing their ownership to prevent this material from being available free to the world on the internet.

The story is timeless, written in letters of blood and fire as I once read somewhere, but radicals, ‘radical publishers’ and their solicitors mirror a much larger enclosure of digital commons. Something which continues on an alarming number of fronts.

The Marxists Internet Archive is a formidable achievement in itself and in the way we think about the web in 2014. The Communist Manifesto went online in 1993. Then and since, all the work has been done for free and available for free. Used by millions, even archived at UCC. There is a bit but not a whole lot you wont find and in fifty odd languages.

So, the interesting bit. I wonder what the response will be. Will it be a few tweets, petitions and people grabbing what they can before it’s gone.  Or will there be any sort of organised response to save what is there for everyone? Could there be?

Has been suggested that there is little to be gained commercially from the take down but also that publishers may have new circumstances, owners or partners where they are obliged to take a harder line. I would be surprised if there were not suitable pre- 89 translations to plug the gap but I guess there wouldn’t be much of an issue of this were the case.

The site came under sustained attack a few years ago which allegedly originated in China.

“We are not 100 percent sure this is the Chinese government; there are a lot of possibilities,” said Brian Basgen, who has worked on the archive since 1990. But he noted that the archive has been temporarily banned by the Chinese government before, about two years ago. “There is a motive,” he said. “They have done it to us in the past. What they are doing is targeting just the Chinese files.”

This is probably much more mundane but intellectual property rights works a lot quicker than computer wizardry these days.

Below is a desk in the British Library reading room.


Where Karl Marx wrote Kapital using books available to everyone.


1. phuzz - April 25, 2014

Fortunately downloading all of the works is just one command (abit quite a long one);
wget –recursive –no-clobber –page-requisites –html-extension –convert-links –restrict-file-names=windows –domains marxists.org –no-parent http://www.marxists.org/mecw.htm
run on a Linux system will download every page, image and associated file from the archive.
I’m not sure about the legality of this, but there is no chance that the archive will be lost, (although I’m sure marxists.org’s webmaster is currently watching a massive uptick in requests).


Gewerkschaftler - April 25, 2014

That’s the spirit Phuzz. There’s a lot to be said for distributed backups 😉 Requesting publicly available web pages is not (yet) illegal.

Now where’s me oar – this should work for Apple fashion victims as well – the useful bits of OS X are after all ripped-off BSD Open Source.


2. Pasionario - April 25, 2014

British Museum Reading Room?


doctorfive - April 25, 2014

since 97


David Convery - April 26, 2014

BL moved to its own building on the Euston Road in 1997. The reading room which was in the British Museum is now used as a temporary exhibition space. From what I hear, they may open it again as a reading room once the extension to the building is complete.


3. Garibaldy - April 25, 2014
4. Mark P - April 25, 2014

The rent seeking vermin over at Lawrence & Wishart have issued a statement:


Short version: Those who criticise us for removing the collected works from the public sphere are motivated by political sectarianism. We deserve to be compensated in perpetuity for our wo… erm dead people’s work. We will sell these volumes to some academic libraries so they will still be available in the public sphere, as long as you think that the public sphere consists of a certain subset of academics. Without this income stream we couldn’t continue to produce useless books by and for Fabian think tanks. You bastards are the real capitalists anyway.


ejh - April 25, 2014

Even so, please don’t refer to people as “vermin”.


5. lcox - April 25, 2014

The issue has been a long-standing one in relation to Gramsci translations where L&W have for a number of years prevented MIA making translations of Gramsci available online. By the speed with which other sites’ versions of Gramsci translations disappear I presume L&W are also sending takedown notices around the net more generally.


Mark P - April 25, 2014

Gramsci is the real money spinner in the “deceased communists for academia” market. Particularly as most of Marx’s more important works have out of copyright translations. Pathfinder’s control of most English language Trotsky translations is also valuable to them, but not on remotely the same scale as Gramsci. You can sell Gramsci to activists, academic Marxists and most lucratively to a whole range of bewildered liberals who don’t understand what they are buying.

Not only is Gramsci long dead, his translator actually wanted his work to be hosted for free on the MIA, but L&H asserted their legal ownership of the copyright to have it taken down. So they profit from controlling access to the work of two men, one dead and the other wanting his work freely available. All perfectly within their legal rights of course. And no doubt those of us who find this disgusting are the real capitalists.


Michael Carley - April 25, 2014

I’ve translated some Gramsci for MIA, and will do some more. The killer is the Prison Notebooks, which are held by the foundation.


6. Starkadder - April 25, 2014

“The issue has been a long-standing one in relation to Gramsci translations where L&W have for a number of years prevented MIA making translations of Gramsci available online.”

Since Gramsci died in 1937, his work would normally
have been in the public domain in this country and the
UK since 2007. Same goes for Charlie and Frederick.

Gandhi’s publishers, the Navjivan Trust, allowed his
work to go into the public domain a few years ago:



Mark P - April 25, 2014

These publishers claim copyright on translations, not on the original texts.


Michael Carley - April 25, 2014

For Gramsci, the Prison Notebooks are in the possession of the Gramsci Foundation, and the edited edition is copyright Einaudi, and isn’t out of copyright, so the translation rights lie with them.


Starkadder - April 25, 2014


On other key Marxists….what’s the situation with
Rosa Luxemburg?


Michael Carley - April 25, 2014

I have Verso’s translated letters, but I think that’s very recent so it’s only fair they claim ownership on the translation.


7. doctorfive - April 25, 2014

While we are on the subject. Would highly recommend this site to everyone. http://caringlabor.wordpress.com/. Lots of books and other bits liberated from academic walls. Excellent essays.

Still plenty of women due a translation don’t forget. There is no shortage of current and very recent writers but there is a serious gap in active women, hundred years worth of Spain, Italy, France and elsewhere, absent. Was watching that Granada Civil War documentary last week and found most footnotes on Montseny interviews were dead links or still in Spanish. Wouldn’t happen with Negri.


WorldbyStorm - April 25, 2014

Very much agree re women.


ejh - April 26, 2014

Was watching that Granada Civil War documentary last week

What documentary is that?


doctorfive - April 26, 2014

sorry here


ejh - April 26, 2014

Blimey. I remember that series, though I thought it was on Channel Four.

I’ve been to Belchite, where the first programme starts, a couple of times.


8. lcox - May 6, 2014

Just to draw attention to this name-and-shame petition about the Marx / Engels texts and L&W:



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