In a move fraught with irony, a publisher of radical publications in Great Britain called Lawrence and Wishart has demanded that a website called the Marxist Internet Archive take down the text of the Marx-Engels Collected Works over ownership complaints. Lawrence and Wishart, a publisher established in 1936 and once affiliated with the British Communist Party, is asserting copyright over the multi-volume work that consists of several books costing $25 to $50 each. The books were complied with the help of the former Soviet Union.
The irony, of course, stems from the fact that Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels are the founders of modern communism, which eschews the very idea of private property. That would seem to include assertions of copyright.
The reaction has not been gentle among believers in Marxism. According to Boing Boing, the copyright assertion was called “uncomradely” and the suggestion was made that Lawrence and Wishart had become a capitalist enterprise. One Ammar Aziz of Lahore, Pakistan has started an online petition demanding that the publishing house rescind its copyright demand. Aziz points out that millions of people have been able to peruse the writings of Marx and Engels since the Marxist Internet Archive had put them up on the Internet. He asserts that one cannot privatize the works of the two communist intellectuals as they belong to the masses for whom they wrote. In his estimation, it would be like trying to trademark the words “socialism” and “communism.”
The Marxist Internet Archive, for its part, is complying with the demand, taking down the Marx-Engels Collected Works on April 30, 2014. The works of the two communists will be still available from other sources.