Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION IV.: Objection Fourth. - 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 IV.: Objection Fourth. - 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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It is said that ideas have no ear-marks, by which their ownership may be known. And hence it has been inferred that ideas cannot be subjects of ownership; though it would doubtless puzzle any one to show any connexion between the premises and the conclusion.
This objection is as frivolous as the others; for neither has corporeal property usually, if ever, any ear-marks by which the world at large can know who is the owner. Nevertheless, when mankind see corporeal wealth, as a horse, a house, or a farm, for example, which bears evidence of human labor, and which has too much market value to justify the idea that the owner would voluntarily abandon it, they infer that it has an owner, though he may be at the time unknown to them. So it should be with an idea. When a man has communicated to him an idea, or a device, that he never knew before,—as that of a steam engine, for example—or any other that has such market value, that he cannot reasonably suppose the owner would gratuitously part with his right of property in it, he ought, as a rational man, to infer that it has an owner, though it have no proprietary mark, by which its owner can be known to a stranger. On the other hand, if the idea be one that has so little market value, that the author would not be likely to make it an article of merchandise, or to set any value upon it as an exclusive property, he may reasonably infer that it is free to any one who chooses to use it.
If it be said that an idea has no mark, by which its own producer or proprietor can know it, the objection is unfounded; since a man does know his own ideas, as well as he knows either the faces of his children, the animals he has reared, or the house he has built. In this respect ideas have the advantage over very many kinds of corporeal commodities. For example, a man cannot distinguish his own piece of coin, from the hundreds of thousands of others stamped in the same mould. Neither can a man often, if ever, identify his own wheat, oats, or other grain, by a simple inspection of the grain itself. He can identify it only by circumstances. And it is the same with a very great variety of corporeal commodities.
If it be said that, for want of ear-marks, the producer of an idea cannot establish his authorship of it, to the satisfaction ofthe legal tribunals, the answer is, that, notwithstanding the want of ear-marks, that very thing is now done every day; partly by means of records, where men sometimes register their ideas, and thus make the evidence, before making the ideas known to the world; and partly by a great variety of other evidence, which such cases generally admit of.
If, however, either from the nature of ideas, or any other cause, a man fail to identify an idea as his, to the satisfaction of the tribunal that tries the question, he must lose his right of property in it; the same as men must do, when they lack evidence to establish their right to corporeal commodities, which are really theirs. But because a man may sometimes, for want of evidence, fail to identify an idea as his, when it really is his, that is no reason why he should not hold his property in all those ideas, which he can prove, to the satisfaction of the legal tribunals, to be his. In short, the same rules, on this point, are applicable to ideas, that are applicable to corporeal commodities.