Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION VI.: Objection Sixth. - 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 VI.: Objection Sixth. - 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 sixth objection is, that since “the course of events, and the general progress of knowledge, science, and art, suggest, point to, contribute to, and aid the production of, certain inventions,” as mentioned in the preceding section, it is to be presumed that, if a particular invention were not produced by one mind, it soon would be by another; and that, because one man happens to be the first inventor, is no reason why he should have an exclusive and perpetual property in a device, or idea, which would have been brought forth, before a very long time, by some other mind, if it had not been done by him.
Admitting, for the sake of the argument, that B would have produced a certain idea, if A had not done it before him, the objection is of no more weight, in the case of intellectual property, than in the case of material property. If A had not taken possession of a certain tract of wild land, and converted it into a farm, some one would have come after him, and done it. But that is no reason why the farm does not now belong to A.
If A had not produced certain commodities for the market—agricultural commodities, for example—the market would have been supplied by some one else. But that plainly is no reason why the commodities produced by the labor of A, should not be held to be his property.
If a man is to be denied any right of property in the fruits of his labor, merely because it is presumed that, if he had not performed the labor, some other person would, no man would be entitled to property in the fruits of his labor; for in few cases, if any, could he prove that no other person would ever have performed the labor, if he had left it undone.
The same principle, that applies to material things, in this respect, applies to ideas.
The principle goes to the destruction of all rights of property in the fruits of man’s labor, because if A, as first producer, is to be deprived of the fruits of his labor, merely for the reason that B would have produced the same things, if A had not, then B certainly, as second producer, ought to have no property in them, for the reason that, if he had not produced them, C would have done so. Admitting that B would have produced the same things that A has done, he could have no better right to them than A now has. So that the principle goes to the destruction of all rights of property in nearly or quite all material, as well as intellectual, things.
But is it at all true, or at all to be presumed, that if A had not produced a certain invention, B would have done it? It may, in a few cases, seem highly probable, though it cannot in the nature of things be certain, that particular inventions would have been made, within a short period, if they had not been made at the times they were. Nevertheless, these things are, in general, matters resting wholly in vague conjecture, and not at all on proof. It may be reasonably certain that, under favorable conditions, mankind at large will progress in the arts and sciences; that many new and valuable inventions will be made by somebody. But what those inventions will be, cannot be known beforehand. It surely is not easy, even if it be possible, to determine that any given invention would have been produced in a hundred, or a thousand years, if it had not been produced by the particular individual, who actually produced it. Hundreds and thousands of years have rolled away without its being produced; and how can it be known, or even confidently asserted, that hundreds and thousands more might not have rolled away, without its being produced, had it not been for the existence of the single mind that actually brought it into existence? Who can suppose that the poems of Homer, Shakespeare, and Milton, or the orations of Demosthenes, Cicero, and Burke, would ever have seen the light, had not Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Demosthenes, Cicero and Burke themselves existed? Certainly no one can imagine such things to have been within the range of any rational probability. Each mind produces its own work; and who can say that any other mind would have produced the same work that one mind has produced, if the latter had not preoccupied the field?
The same theory no doubt holds good to a considerable extent, (who can say it does not hold good to all extent?) in all other fields of intellectual labor, as well as in poetry and eloquence? Perhaps it will be said that some devices are so simple, and lie so on the surface of things, that they must soon have been discovered by somebody, if the actual discoverer had never existed. But simple ideas, that seemed to have lain on the surface of things, almost within the sight of every one, have been passed by unseen for ages. Who can say that they would not have continued to be passed by for ages more, but for the fortunate, ingenious, or keen-sighted discoverers, who actually first laid their eyes directly upon them? It certainly seems to be the general order of nature, in regard to intellectual productions, that each individual of the human race has his peculiar work allotted to him; not that one is created to do what another has left undone.*
Who can say, or believe, that if Alexander, and Cæsar, and Napoléon had not played the parts they did in human affairs, there was another Alexander, another Cæsar, another Napoléon, standing ready to step into their places, and do their work? Who can believe that the works of Raphael and Angelo could have been performed by other hands than theirs? Who can affirm that any one but Franklin would ever have drawn the lightnings from the clouds? Yet who can say that what is true of Alexander, and Cæsar, and Napoléon, and Raphael, and Angelo, and Franklin, is not equally true of Arkwright, and Watt, and Fulton, and Morse? Surely no one.
It is no doubt both easy and truthful to say, that certain events point the way to, and prepare the way for, certain other events—to discoveries, as to all other things. But it is also no doubt equally true that the course of events, and the progress of knowledge have, through all time, pointed the way to, and prepared the way for, countless thousands of other inventions that have never been made; inventions, that have not been made, simply because the right man was not there to make them; or he had not the proper facilities, or the necessary inducements, to make them. If ten thousand times as many discoveries had been made, as have been actually made, we should have said, with equal reason, and with equal truth, that the course of events, and the progress of knowledge, had pointed the way to them, and prepared the way for them, as we now say that the course of events, and the progress of knowledge, pointed the way to, and prepared the way for, the discoveries already made; and that, if they had not been made at the time they were, they would no doubt soon have been made by others? What, then, is the value of any such objection as this, to the rights of authors and inventors?
But even if a second man would have made a certain invention, if the first had not—what of it? May not the invention as well be the property of the first man, as of the second?
The first man having done the work, the second man has no need to do it; but is left free to perform some other labor, of which he will enjoy the fruits, in the same way that the first enjoys the fruits of his labor. Where, then, is the injustice?
[* ] There are doubtless exceptions to this rule, for two men have been known to invent the same thing, without any aid from each other. But such cases are very rare.