Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 26, 2014

Boycott Lawrence and Wishart

Filed under: capitalist pig,intellectual property,Internet — louisproyect @ 1:32 pm

Screen shot 2014-04-26 at 9.30.07 AM

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Lawrence and Wishart have just proved themselves to be opportunist bourgeois profiteers pimping of the workers movement by denying people access to works from a century and a half ago so they can extort money from, in the last analysis, college students or taxpayers.

A comrade hints that he might be OK with it because they co-published some book about a strike a hundred years ago.

Oh! I almost forgot. Eleanor Marx was involved. In the strike, not the book, but –perhaps– that makes L&W A-OK.

Information wants to be free, especially if it can help working people understand the nature of the system so we can smash it.

David Walters and the MIA have NO CHOICE but to respect this bourgeois “intellectual property,” or the MIA would be shut down. So I totally understand and support them in their stance of respecting bourgeois “intellectual property,” including making nice-sounding diplomatic noises about copyrights, the DMCA, and so on.

But the rest of us are not under those constraints. People should download the material to be censored and share it as widely as possible, especially through torrents, which are a very efficient means of distribution, and through “darknet” sites, though that is quite a bit more complicated.

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I’m not just  being ornery or ultraleft. This is the right policy, the right response, to a bourgeois publisher who PRETENDS to be an ally to the socialist movement, but instead seeks to EXPLOIT working people when the opportunity arises.

The argument is that the translations are “new,” even if the works are old, and copyright fees are just because the people who made these new translations have to be paid royalties is 1,000% bogus.

Find me the translator who says they’re getting royalties from sales of Marx and Engels translations and I’ll show you a liar. Or any translator of ANY work. Apart from Gregory Rabassa, the translator of Gabo’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and one or two others, any translator who claims he or she has received one cent from royalties AFTER the initial fee is lying.

I’ve been translating “professionally” (i.e., for money) for more than four decades, and Rabassa is the only one of our tribe that I’ve ever met who got post-publication royalties. And as someone who has been and continues to be a “content creator,” I totally support writers, actors, and everyone else like that who is involved in actually creating “works of authorship” getting paid.

But PUBLISHERS (whether known by that name or others, like Hollywood studios, record labels, TV networks, web sites, content aggregators, or whatever), are parasites. They are the ENEMIES of content creators (authors, translators, editors, film makers, etc.). In the real world, the monopoly that copyright law grants benefits THEM much much more than it does US, and is even a weapon used against us. The media monopoly mafia use their hoards of “copyrights” to tell us we either sell to them cheap, or we won’t sell at all. They have tons of content that they already own and they don’t needs ours.

And because they own the distribution channels, the threat is quite credible.

In practice, this works out to the overwhelming majority of content creators being forced to work under conditions where their EMPLOYER, a corporation, is the “author,” and the actual creative human beings have no rights, none whatsoever, under copyright law.

This corporate monopoly has been based on the capitalist’s control of the means of producing and reproducing works and distributing them.

What gave rise to this sort of copyright law is the printing press. You need to be a capitalist to have one.

We journalists know that “freedom of the press belongs to those that own one,” but the same is true of copyright. Copyright belongs to the capitalists, to the bourgeoisie.

Digital technology and especially the Internet has given regular people –us– tools to begin shattering that monopoly. David Walters and his friends in the MIA deserve credit for using those tools to give untold millions of people access to something that belongs to everyone.

Now, some will say that a publisher, even in this day and age, needs to recoup their investment in these “new” translations, otherwise there will be no more.

But in the REAL world, a publisher pays for a translation on the basis of the expected sales of a book over at most 2-3 years. The reason for that is simple, and mathematical. The money paid out for a translation is an investment, and the value of that investment compounds over time. Because it is a risky investment, it needs to have a high rate of return. Either you make back the money very quickly, or after a few years a $10,000 investment needs to yield double, triple or quadruple that figure (or even more).

Why? To compensate for inflation, pay for the publisher’s bets that didn’t work, provide the “normal” rate of return for a “safe” long-term investment and provide a hefty premium on top of that since this isn’t a safe investment.

But these MECW works aren’t five or ten years old, they were done DECADES ago. And they were not done as a profit-making capitalist venture. The technology available in those days did not allow massive free distribution, but the intent was clear from pricing that was a small fraction of comparable academic editions of other works from previous centuries.

Claiming bourgeois “intellectual property” rights on these works to put them behind a pay wall after they have been freely available for many years is obscene. L&W’s suggestion that this will somehow preserve or guarantee the access to these works is ridiculous. There would be countless academic institutions quite willing to host the entire corpus for free, if given the chance.

What L&W are doing is pure and simple rapacious corporate profiteering by executives who had NOTHING to do with these editions, who contributed absolutely NOTHING, but now want to put them behind a pay wall, to pocket the profits.

So fuck them.

Let’s pirate, not just the M&E collected works, but EVERYTHING under the imprint of these profiteering scumbags.

BOYCOTT anything you have to pay L&W for, unless you’re accessing it to pirate it.

Joaquín Bustelo, Marxmail subscriber

6 Comments »

  1. A frequent user of the Marxist Internet Archive I referred to these writings only a few weeks back when writing a review of Karl Marx: a Nineteenth-Century Life by Jonathan Sperber (following up his use of Marx’s Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century)

    Even those of us who have fairly large collections of Marx and Engels writings need this kind of resource unless we have access to a university library (and even then….)

    Apart from agreeing with the comments above I would like to add the obvious remark that depriving us of this material is a serious attack on our ability to write about Marx and Engels.

    Comment by Andrew Coates — April 26, 2014 @ 3:27 pm

  2. I think L&W is its own perverse way trying to prove Robert Tressell’s point that socialism isn’t about sharing. But it’s also not about hoarding. What a disgrace!

    Comment by Michael Hirsch — April 26, 2014 @ 3:55 pm

  3. They’re money grubbing scumbags, just like Pathfinder Press. I wish I had the means to pay for a new translation that could be exclusively online for free. Heck, them money grubbers would make more money if they commissioned a new translation to be sold and left the old translation on the MIA for free access.

    Comment by Jim Brash — April 27, 2014 @ 6:37 am

  4. What is even more laughable is that access in academic libraries is considered “public access”. I live miles from any academic library.

    Comment by Sheldon — April 27, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

  5. Yet another in a long list of thousands of pieces of evidence over the last two centuries to disprove that a “communist business” (be it attached to a party, collective or organized any other way) is an oxymoron. Capitalism is capitalism, capitalists are capitalists. Same goes with boycotts, which are but calls to spend money one place rather than another in order to punish the “really bad” capitalists.

    There’s but one solution: global revolution to abolish the capitalist social relation and world capitalist market. This isn’t ultraleft revolutionary bluster but a cold hard reality.

    Comment by Steve D — April 28, 2014 @ 6:54 am


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