In the latest example of a phenomenon as old as the state itself, Stan McCoy – formerly the US Trade Representative’s chief “intellectual property” negotiator, who wrote ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s IP chapter – was just given a cushy job at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). He’s one of over a dozen senior USTR officials who’ve moved to jobs at industry groups in the past year.
This is why it’s such a waste of time to devote serious effort and resources to working within the system to affect the form the law takes. Doing so amounts to fighting the enemy by the enemy’s own rules, on ground favorable to the enemy, where the enemy has the advantage of a prepared defense.
German Blitzkrieg war theorists had a term, Schwerpunkt, for the decisive point at which an armored formation penetrated the enemy forces front lines, and then immediately bypassed the main body of the enemy’s forces and cut them off and encircled them from the rear. John Robb, a leading theorist of networked “Fourth Generation Warfare” models, has coined the term “Systempunkt” for the analogous phenomenon in networked conflict.
In World War II, Allied strategic bombing campaigns over Germany destroyed entire infrastructures, one power station, power line, bridge, road, railroad, etc., at a time. They were able to undertake the enormously costly task of destroying an entire physical infrastructure, mile by mile, because of their overwhelming air superiority and much larger industrial output. The concept of Systempunkt, on the other hand, is illustrated by Al Qaeda Iraq’s practice of attacking only a few key nodes in an infrastructure, which – although amounting to one percent or less of the total physical infrastructure – disables and renders non-operational the other 99 percent left untouched. That’s a great deal more cost-effective.
For the forces of information freedom, and other movements associated with the successor economy, to attempt to fight the established interests of the existing system for control of the state, is like an army trying to capture control of an entire infrastructure mile-by-mile – and to do so when, far from possessing material superiority, it is outnumbered ten – or a hundred-to-one by the defending enemy. It’s utterly stupid.
We can render the corporate state inoperative, using maybe one percent of the resources required to actually capture the state through the political process, by attacking its ability to enforce the subsidies, privileges and legal monopolies of big business. Enforcement capability is the Systempunkt of the state capitalist economy.
The proprietary content industry, and all the other businesses that make money by extracting rents from patents, copyrights and trademarks, will always control the “intellectual property” policy of the state. I mean, that’s what the state exists for. Attempting to fight their money and political influence by the rules of the system would just be pouring resources down a rathole. But for a tiny fraction of the same money and effort, we can turn patents and copyrights into a dead letter through strong encryption, proxy servers, torrent downloads and moving webhosting to servers in countries that don’t take orders from the MPAA and RIAA (that’s why Center for a Stateless Society, the outfit I’m writing this for, is moving our site to servers in Iceland).
When the US government seized Wikileaks’ domain name, thousands of hosts around the world (C4SS among them) responded by mirroring the site. And many thousands of people blogged and tweeted the numeric IP address of Wikileaks sites in various countries so people could look it up directly by IP address rather than using the domain name. Then when the government carried out mass seizures of domain names of alleged “infringing sites” on behalf of the music and movie industries, the Mozilla Foundation came up with Firefox browser extensions that would bypass the domain name blocks by automatically going straight to the numeric IP address. As Bruce Sterling put it, “treating the law of the land as damage and routing around it.”
Now there’s Bit Torrent Sync, a utility which enables any two people who’ve installed it and know a common password to transfer torrents directly from one computer to another, with secure end-to-end encryption. It’s kind of like what happens when you use your cursor to move a file to the Dropbox icon – only the information’s not stored at a permanent location in the Cloud, and it’s encrypted. It’s a totally desktop-to-desktop, p2p file-sharing system. So it doesn’t matter if the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or any other draconian copyright legislation, passes. Any two people with Bit Torrent Sync who want to share a file can do so. Big Content has lost the war, once and for all. They’re dead – they just don’t know it yet.
Which leads me to the latest interesting development: Lawrence and Wishart, a Leftist publisher who owns the rights to the English language edition of the enormous (over fifty volumes) Marx and Engels Collected Works, has demanded that that the Marxist Internet Archive – an amazing online library that includes not only the Collected Works but an astonishing collection of other writers ranging from Luxemburg and Gramsci to C.L.R. James and Walter Rodney – take down Marx and Engels’ Collected Works by April 30. Happy May Day, Comrades!
As anyone at all familiar with the Web could have predicted, this led to a massive backlash of outrage from the Left that Lawrence and Wishart were – naturally – unprepared for. On Friday April 21 their website published an utterly whiny complaint (“Lawrence & Wishart statement on the Collected Works of Marx and Engels“) that they’d been subjected to a “campaign of online abuse” because they “asked for [their] copyright” (sniff) “to be respected.”
Aside from the rather contemptible display of self-pity and entitlement, the statement reflects more than anything else an utter lack of business sense. “Ultimately, in asking L&W to surrender copyrights in this particular edition of the works of Marx & Engels, [Marxist Internet Archive] and their supporters are asking that L&W, one of the few remaining independent radical publishers in the UK, should commit institutional suicide.” This is nonsense on stilts. The hard copy set of the Collected Works, if bought as a complete set instead of one volume at a time, sells for 1500 British Pounds, which is somewhere well north of $2000. If Lawrence and Wishart can show one person, anywhere in the world, who put off shelling out over two thousand bucks for a set of the dead tree edition of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works because a digital online edition was available, I will eat my own left hand – raw, and without salt. The Marxist Internet Archive’s online edition of the Collected Works is not costing Lawrence and Wishart a single solitary sale. The only thing the online edition is competing against is a trip to a university library. If anything, the online edition is free advertising for the dead tree edition. In other words, Lawrence and Wishart is governed by the same abject stupidity as the music and movie industries – the dying music and movie industries.
Not only is Lawrence and Wishart as stupid as the music and movie industries, its attempt to suppress free, infinitely replicable digital information is turning out to be just as big a failure as those industries’ attempt to do so. No doubt the Archive will be mirrored, with its existing contents, at plenty of sites around the world. But in the meantime, the entire English language contents of the Marxist Internet Archive – including the disputed edition of Marx and Engels’ Collected Works – is available for torrent download at The Pirate Bay <https://thepiratebay.se/torrent/6231000/Marxists.org_-_full_English_language_archive>. And the Collected Works by themselves are available as a .zip file at Sendspace <http://www.sendspace.com/file/l7wx0o>. I’ve got a copy of the latter on my hard drive, and it works just fine – the individual files open up in a browser tab and look exactly like the online version. I recommend anyone who expects to be at all interested in accessing the Collected Works online at any point in the future to download one of these files ASAP – and share them with your friends, far and wide, via Bit Torrent Sync!
Enjoy your copyright, Lawrence and Wishart, for all the good it may do you. I love the smell of burning capitalists in the morning.
Response to Lawrence & Wishart statement on MECW
April 26, 2014
We are intrigued by the Lawrence & Wishart statement on the Marx Engels Collected Works published on April 25, 2014 via their web site. The reaction of the “Marxist community” at large has been wholly negative to the actions — completely legal — by L&W, asking the Marxists Internet Archive to take down the L&W copyrighted material. We would have preferred they allow us to continue to keep them on line. These first 10 volumes were published between 1975 and 1978. L&W have undoubtedly recovered their costs and then some from these early editions.
All users of the MIA and readers of L&W material should be aware that the MIA have stayed clear from the recent grass roots campaigns that were organized by thousands of leftists and Marxists in response to L&W’s demand. We have never suggested that other translations of Marx and Engels that are in the public domain are under threat by L&W. We have assured readers that a large portion of these writings are in the public domain and will remain on the MIA web page. Others outside of MIA’s collective of volunteers may have been “spreading panic” (though most get what is going on by now), but not us; the MIA collective itself is fully aware of what is demanded by L&W. But we do have a political difference with L&W over the MECW and the issue of institutional prerogatives that we feel should be known and discussed publicly.
Firstly, we praise Lawrence & Wishart, International Publishers and Progress Publishers for venturing into this project in the early 1970s, resulting in the MECW. It is, and continues to be, a phenomenal contribution to the history of the workers movement generally and to Marxism specifically.
However, the L&W staff write:
“We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide. This will have the effect of maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons that reimburses publishers, authors and translators for the work that has gone into creating a book or series of books.”
We disagree. Removing them from generalized Internet access and bouncing the MECW ‘upstairs’ into the Academy is the opposite of “maintaining a public presence of the Works.” It restricts access to those having current academic status at a university that is subscribing to the service. This is the same as for readership of learned journals. It is not public access. This is the opposite of the general trend toward making things available for free on the Internet. What L&W argues is truly a cognitive disconnect of major proportions. It also destroys the enhanced functionality which MIA gave to the MECW material, embedding it with the writings of other Marxists.
The MIA existed from the get-go because we wanted to open up the privileged, access-only libraries at universities — where the writings of Marx and Engels were mostly lodged — and make them available to anyone with a dial-up modem (the prevalent form of internet connection in the 1990s). The Internet, far from being simply a “… consumer culture which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers…” as L&W argues, is a new media for information.— Specifically, the history of the workers movement should in fact be “free.”
By making these works free, we have vastly increased access to these important writings everywhere in the world and by virtually anyone in the world. Hitherto, the restrictive and cost-prohibitive published versions of these works prevent those who would benefit most from using them from any access whatsoever. Putting them online at a university-only setting only ghettoizes them to the elite with access to such an institution. Which is not “public” by any means.
L&W’s statement suggests that allowing the MIA to continue to put up volumes 1 through 10 of the 50 volumes would significantly impact L&W’s finances in a negative manner. It’s unclear if this was already the case as far back as nine years ago when L&W granted us permission to put online these works in the first place or this is a new revelation. L&W writes “It makes no profits other than those required to pay a small wage to its very small and overworked staff, investing the vast majority of its returns in radical publishing projects, including an extensive and costly (to L&W) programme of free e-books. Without L&W and the work which its employees have invested over many years, the full collected works of Marx and Engels in English would not exist. Without the income derived its copyright in these works, L&W would not exist.”
It remains unclear what kind of income L&W derives from the sales of the volumes of MECW and how much it obtains from sales of more contemporary authors. Publication by the MIA does not compromise income to L&W from licensing use of the material in commercial publications. In fact, there is no doubt that MIA enhances this income. There is no doubt that the masses of the students of Marxism owe L&W a lot for their publishing efforts, however. But now, L&W is literally asking the world, to not use the Internet for these first 10 volumes of the Works but to have to travel to universities in order to study or even casually look at these writings. These writings, the translations of which were paid for by L&W, International Publishers and the state supported Progress Publishers, do in fact belong, politically, to the world and not an institution; not in a legal sense, but in moral and political senses. Moreover, L&W knows this. The MIA would be the first group to support the cost recovery of the publishing efforts for MECW. It is highly likely that this effort, started 40 years ago, has more than paid for these volumes. Note: the MIA is not demanding or asking for all the MECW, but these first 10 Volumes, to be placed for all to see and use. We believe that yes, this is more important than the institutional prerogatives of one publishing house.
It is true that L&W is in the tradition of other communist & leftist publishing houses. That tradition, by and large, provided inexpensive, shortened versions in pocket-book form of the writings of Marx, Engels and Lenin. This particular tradition went by the wayside a long time ago. Though we commend L&W for publishing in free e-book format (as does the MIA) the point was to distribute to workers and youth the works in question, not to restrict their use by higher and higher prices and taking away an easy access to them. The point of any communist publishing house, which the MIA lives up to, is to assure the widest distribution of these works, not, again, to restrict them. That is the opposite of communist publishing. The money spent on publishing should be recovered. We have no disagreement on this. We even defend this and advocate it. But this is not what is at question here.
We also don’t believe that allowing access to these first 10 volumes is something that would hinder sales, either of the first 10 volumes or the future digital distribution to universities that L&W is suggesting is its target consumer. We think in fact — and this is born out by discussion in the publishing world — that allowing free Internet access to some of these works would actually increase sales, not hinder them. The MIA have played a role in publicizing and supporting such sales in such a case as this and would welcome discussions on how we could continue working along these lines. It should be noted that many volumes of the entire MECW are in fact sold in excellent condition by many used booksellers. Do these cut across L&W sales? Likely they do. Thus, this digital product of L&W wants to offer universities is at best a niche product and wouldn’t help sales of their hard copy volumes of the MECW. It is in fact a completely different product only competing itself with the existing stocks of full priced volumes of the MECW.
We hope to continue this discussion.
David Walters, on behalf of MIA
Lawrence & Wishart statement on the Collected Works of Marx and Engels
Over the last couple of days Lawrence & Wishart has been subject to campaign of online abuse because we have asked for our copyright on the scholarly edition of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels to be respected. The panic being spread to the effect that L&W is ‘claiming copyright’ for the entirety of Marx and Engels’ output is baseless, slanderous and largely motivated by political sectarianism from groups and individuals who have never been friendly to L&W.
We are currently negotiating an agreement with a distributor that will offer a digital version of the Collected Works to university libraries worldwide. This will have the effect of maintaining a public presence of the Works, in the public sphere of the academic library, paid for by public funds. This is a model of commons that reimburses publishers, authors and translators for the work that has gone into creating a book or series of books.
Many translations of works of Marx are now out of copyright – for example the Aveling translation of Capital, a number of translations of the Communist Manifesto. These are widely available both online and in print, including in public libraries. Our copyright edition of the Collected Works, however, is a scholarly library edition of fifty volumes, which resulted from work carried out over a period of more than thirty years. Income from our copyright on this scholarly work contributes to our continuing publication programme. Infringement of this copyright has the effect of depriving a small radical publisher of the funds it needs to remain in existence.
The copyrighted material in question does not include the most widely-consulted editions on the Marxist Internet Archive or anywhere else. Much of this edition comprises less well known works which have only been translated and published in recent years – as well as a number of volumes of correspondence. These works are not some ancient birthright of the radical left, as has been implied by many of our critics.
Our critics’ rhetorically loaded descriptions of L&W as a ‘private publishing house’ and of our actions as ‘capitalistic’ betray a complete lack of understanding of L&W’s historic role in British radical publishing, of its organisational status, and, indeed, of Marx’s concept of the capitalist mode of production. L&W is not a capitalist organisation engaged in profit-seeking or capital accumulation. It is a direct legatee of the Communist/Eurocommunist tradition in the UK, having been at one time the publishing house of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Today it survives on a shoestring, while continuing to develop and support new critical political work by publishing a wide range of books and journals. It makes no profits other than those required to pay a small wage to its very small and overworked staff, investing the vast majority of its returns in radical publishing projects, including an extensive and costly (to L&W) programme of free e-books. Without L&W and the work which its employees have invested over many years, the full collected works of Marx and Engels in English would not exist. Without the income derived its copyright in these works, L&W would not exist.
We note that it is entirely normal for other radical publishers to defend their copyrights and would ask our critics why they think this is somehow more acceptable than our actions in defending ours.
Ultimately, in asking L&W to surrender copyrights in this particular edition of the works of Marx & Engels, MIA and their supporters are asking that L&W, one of the few remaining independent radical publishers in the UK, should commit institutional suicide. At the same time they are reproducing the norms and expectations not of the socialist and communist traditions, but of a consumer culture which expects cultural content to be delivered free to consumers, leaving cultural workers such as publishers, editors and writers unpaid, while the large publishing and other media conglomerates and aggregators continue to enrich themselves through advertising and data-mining revenues and through their far greater institutional weight compared to small independent publishers.
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 tiny, ill-paid staff.
On behalf of the staff and editorial board at L&W