Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION III.: Objection Third. - The Law of Intellectual Property; or An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas
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SECTION III.: Objection Third. - Lysander Spooner, The Law of Intellectual Property; or An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas 
The Law of Intellectual Property; or An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas (Boston: Bela Marsh, 1855).
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A third objection, that has been urged against a right of property in ideas, any longer than they remain in the exclusive possession of the originator, is, that ideas are of the nature of wild animals, which, being once let loose, fly beyond the control of man; thus interposing an obstacle, in a law of their own nature, to the maintenance of any dominion over them, after they have once been liberated.
This objection is utterly fanciful and unfounded. The resemblance between a flying thought, and a flying bird, may be sufficiently striking for purposes of poetry and metaphor, but has none of the elements of a legal analogy. A thought never flies. It goes only as it is carried by man. It never escapes beyond the power of men; but is always wholly under their control; having no existence, nor habitation, except in their minds.
Renouard, in his argument against the right of property in ideas, asks, “Who can doubt that thought, by its own essence, escapes exclusive appropriation?”* I answer the question by asking, Who can pretend, for an instant, that thought does, “by its own essence,” or by any law of its own nature, escape exclusive appropriation? Nothing is, by its own essence and nature, more perfectly susceptible of exclusive appropriation, than a thought. It originates in the mind of a single individual. It can leave his mind only in obedience to his will. It dies with him, if he so elect. And, as matter of fact, doubtless ninety-nine out of every hundred of every man’s thoughts do really die with him, without having ever been in the possession of any other than his single mind.
When a thought does go beyond the mind of its original possessor, it goes only to such minds as he wills to have it go to. And it can then leaye their minds only in obedience to their wills; and can go only to such minds as they choose to deposit it with.
A thought, then, never, “by its own essence,” or by any law of its own nature, goes out of the exclusive possession of the mind that originated it. It never “escapes” from the custody, either of its first owner, or of any subsequent owner or possessor. If it be regarded as a living creature, it is no wild animal; but one thoroughly domesticated; neither capable of going, by its own powers, nor ever seeking to go, beyond the limits assigned for its habitation.
Is not a thought, then, “by its own essence” and nature, a subject of “exclusive appropriation?” Nothing is more self-evident than that it is. Neither wood nor stone is more susceptible of “exclusive appropriation,” than a thought. And if it be susceptible of exclusive appropriation, it is a legitimate subject of property.
This conclusion is not impaired at all by the fact, that, if the owner of an idea do but once give it into the possession of another person, it is then liable and likely, not to go of itself, but to be carried, to millions of minds. The owner understands all this when he makes his thought known; and in many, perhaps most, cases desires and intends it—knowing that no right of property or use will go with the idea; but that the more extensive the knowledge or possession of it, the more numerous will be those, who will come to him to buy the idea itself, or the right of using it.
But perhaps it will be said that an idea, once disclosed, though in confidence, to a single individual, may be given by him, against the will of the true owner, into the possession of mankind at large. This is true, but it can only be done wrongfully; and then no right of property or use goes with the idea, unless in the case of what the law calls an innocent purchaser for value. And the wrong-doer is responsible for the wrong, if any injury accrue to the owner in consequence of it. The principle is precisely the same as in the case of a corporeal commodity, intrusted by its owner to the keeping of another. If the person thus intrusted, prove false to his trust, and deliver the commodity over to a third person, against the will of the owner, no right of property goes with it, (unless to an innocent purchaser for value,) and the wrong-doer is responsible for his wrong, if the owner of the commodity sustain any loss in consequence. And this principle is just as sound, when applied to an idea, as when applied to a corporeal commodity.
[* ] There is a translation of Renouard’s Argument in the American Jurist, No. 43, (Oct. 1839,) p. 39.