Communism, Capitalism and Copyright

by on April 25, 2014 at 7:25 am in Books, Law | Permalink

Over at Crooked Timber Scott Mclemee is upset that a copyright action is removing Marx from

The Marxist Internet Archive ( is a vast and growing resource, run entirely by donated labor, and as polylingual as circumstances permit. (Do they have Trotsky in Tagalog? Indeed they do.) Yesterday, a notice appeared in the Archive’s Facebook group, and also on its homepage, saying that Lawrence & Wishart’s lawyers demand removal of material from the Marx-Engels Collected Works: “Accordingly, from 30th April 2014, no material from MECW is available from English translations of Marx and Engels from other sources will continue to be available.”

…Chances are the archive volunteers never contacted the press before putting the material up because they assumed, reasonably enough, that an edition prepared largely if not entirely with the support of old-fashioned, Soviet-era Moscow gold was not anybody’s private intellectual property—that the works of Marx and Engels now belong to the commons.

As you know, I have some sympathy with this complaint if not with the motivating example. What really burns Mclemee, however, fills me with glee. At the same time as Marx and Lenin were being pulled from he and Corey Robin received:

…radically under-priced materials from the enemy’s publishing apparatus. He’d received an order containing dirt-cheap copies of Bastiat from the Liberty Fund, while a day earlier I had downloaded free digital editions of the major Austrian School books on theory of value and the socialist-calculation debate from the Mises Institute website. There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing.

1 Just Another MR Commentor April 25, 2014 at 8:13 am

Somehow I feel More Immigrants is the solution.

2 Benny Lava April 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

I suspect the problem isn’t that Marx is not yet public domain but the edition they chose is not. Seems foolish but then again they are Marxists.

3 Adrian Ratnapala April 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

The point is to contrast the behaviour of Lawrence & Wishart (an outgrowth of the the British Communist Party) to that of the Liberty Fund. Even taking L&W as a profit-seeking entity, pissing off your potential customers seems obviously bad for business.

Then again, they are Marxists.

4 Mark Thorson April 25, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Wasn’t the BCP Stalinist and Trotskyite? Maybe that’s the nature of the dispute.

5 prior_approval April 25, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Even more amusing is how all modern versions of the Bible are copyrighted.

That’s right – copyright covers God’s words too.

6 AndrewL April 25, 2014 at 3:38 pm

the copyright covers a particular translation of the bible.

7 prior_approval April 26, 2014 at 4:12 am

Of course. And scholarly editions of the Bible (Oxfords’s, for example) that are copyrighted that only consider the text as one written by people in a historical setting are not being sold by people saying that the copyrighted work represents the only correct and true words of God, his son, and the prophets.

But for a church, that purports the text represents the words of God (inerrant or not) et al, to copyright God’s work, seems to be an act of hubris that even a classical Greek tragedy writer would find difficult to encompass. Especially when leading religious figures publicly state America’s not following the words of God are what cause tragedies like that of 9/11.

The copyrighted words of God, that is.

8 Funda Mental April 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm

And they should be filed in the “fiction” or “humor” sections.

9 UserGoogol April 27, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Karl Marx wrote a lot of stuff, and not all of it was translated into English in time for it to be public domain today. And a lot of the stuff in the Marx/Engels Collected Works was previously unpublished anyway.

10 Fundman April 25, 2014 at 8:18 am

So the supposedly self-interested, pro-capitalist non-profits are giving away books at cut rate prices and undermining the Marxists – lololololololol. Tyler and Alex you can imagine how happy this makes me!

11 Jozef Imrich April 25, 2014 at 8:47 am

We are prepared for everything. Absolutely everything. Except at those rare moments when hard core irony happens 😉

12 Adrian Ratnapala April 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

It is not quite as good as the case where “1984” dissapeared from people’s Kindles.

13 prior_approval April 25, 2014 at 2:16 pm

Which, thank the copyrighted word of god, showed that copyright was mightier than the memory hole.

14 B.B. April 25, 2014 at 9:22 am

This story remineded me of a funny scene in an old movie from the 1970s: “Network.”

In one scene, a woman who runs the Communist Party of the USA is arguing with a bunch of domestic terrorists over the distribution of commercial rights for their filmed activity.

15 Brock April 25, 2014 at 9:35 am

Christian fundamentalism is more dangerous than marxism now in america.

16 Just Another MR Commentor April 25, 2014 at 9:49 am


17 Mark Thorson April 25, 2014 at 9:58 am

Only because they vote Republican.

18 prior_approval April 25, 2014 at 2:20 pm

And the occasional murder of a doctor in a Lutheran church ( or bombings (

19 Z April 25, 2014 at 10:51 am

I’m a little surprised that lunatics still fret over Christianity. The Cult has banished Christianity from most of their lands. Few in the ruling class, regardless of their politics, are publicly Christian. I guess back benchers like Brock are lagging indicators.

20 Brock April 25, 2014 at 11:59 am

Iam a non christian conservative you fool.

21 TMC April 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Nope, but it sure looks like you just got called a lunatic.

22 Rahul April 28, 2014 at 1:38 am


Are a good percentage of public-shooters, bombers, etc Christian fundamentalists? Not sure of the stats but curious. For sure, 100 years ago the Marxists were doing a lot of this same thing but they seem to have petered out now.

23 Dain Fitzgerald April 25, 2014 at 5:43 pm

Marxist influenced thought – denied publicly but admitted in private conversation – influences policy in lots of domains, gradually squeezing out the lifeworld of conservatives.

But the right is still more likely to actually KILL you over politics, as the Tiller and recent Kansas City stuff shows.

24 chuck martel April 25, 2014 at 7:35 pm

How many was it again that those rightist nutcases Josef and Mao put in mass graves?

25 Dain Fitzgerald April 25, 2014 at 7:44 pm

I’m talking about the US

26 ~FR April 25, 2014 at 10:09 pm

LH Oswald, Joe Stack, Bill Ayers, Chris Dorner… etc etc etc

Too easy. Send better trolls.

27 Marie April 25, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Good post.

28 BrentR April 25, 2014 at 10:06 am

I’m not so sure that these aren’t efficient pricing policies set by self-interested actors. Maybe the copyright owners realize that the most profitable thing for Marxism is to charge a high price for these works, creating a profit for the owners and limiting distribution to those that will agree to pay.

Reminds me a bit of Scientologists.

29 NPW April 25, 2014 at 10:38 am

@BrentR. So in summary, the best decision for Marxism is for their adherents to practice capitalism.

30 Dingbat April 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

Since no one has yet pointed out this particular part of the irony: The unsubsidized market won’t support the publication of Bastiat.

Amusingly, John Mearsheimer used to assign Lenin’s Imperialism to his political theory students, not just for its content, but because the Soviet Union was heavily subsidizing its publication, and he figured that every two or three bucks he took out of their pocket was a blow struck for freedom.

Ahh, the marketplace of ideas.

31 chuck martel April 25, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Bastiat isn’t subsidized by a government, his works are a gift by a private entity.

32 Fundman April 25, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Bastiat’s “The Law” is available from Amazon through a private publisher. Liberty Fund (full disclosure I am an employee) publishes collections of his essays and makes much of his work available on our webpages free. So the “unsubsidized market” does support the publication of some of his work. Like Google, we also believe in the value of ideas being easily available and pay through our resources to do so.

33 Dingbat April 25, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Fair ’nuff. I’m glad I work for a publisher without ideological commitments that put me in an awkward place vis-a-vis copyright (like L&W are) or FMV of our output.

I’m immensely enjoying watching the kerfuffle among the committed left:

“But property is theft”
“Oh, wow, maybe they actually have a point that they have to pay to bring out more work…”

It’s like being a first-year at the University of Chicago all over again.

34 Dingbat April 25, 2014 at 11:45 am

Over at CT, one of the commenters points out that the original publisher may have been in Soviet Moscow, in which case the work was published straight into the public domain. The Soviets were serious (erm, in some ways) about collective ownership (of, erm, some things). Way over on the left (as it were) side of the Tabarrok Curve. ( )

35 Steve Sailer April 25, 2014 at 5:16 pm

The late Robert Maxwell made a lot of money off Soviet copyrights. He’d done some valuable spying for Moscow, so the Reds asked him what kind of favor he’d like. He said, oh, just let me have the copyright for translations of some of your scientific journals.

36 freethinker April 25, 2014 at 8:28 pm

What is so paradoxical about the works of Mises and Rothbard being available free online unlike the leftist works ? Have you never heard of predatory pricing? Just wait till the Marxist stuff goes out of business. Then we will have to pay a fortune for the libertarian books

37 Mark Thorson April 25, 2014 at 9:10 pm

L&W has made a statement with regard to the Marxist Internet Archive controversy.

38 Mark Thorson April 27, 2014 at 6:40 pm

And the Marxist Internet Archive has a response.

39 Brett April 26, 2014 at 12:37 am

There’s more to neoliberal hegemony than loss-leader pricing, but as ideological combatants those people know what they’re doing.

The Power of Incentives at work!

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