Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION IX.: Objection Ninth. - 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 IX.: Objection Ninth. - 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 generally, if not universally, conceded that an inventor has a good moral claim for compensation for his invention; that he ought to be suitably, and even liberally, paid for his labor. At the same time, many, who make this concession, will say that to allow him an exclusive and perpetual property in his invention, would be transcending all reason in the way of compensation.
This view of the case, it will be seen, denies to the inventor all exclusive right of property in his invention. It asserts that the invention really belongs to the public, and not to himself. And it only advocates the morality and equity of allowing him such compensation for his time and labor as is reasonable. And it maintains that such compensation should be determined, in some measure at least, by the compensation which other men than inventors obtain for their time and labor. And this is the view on which patent laws generally are founded.
The objection to this theory is, that it strikes at all rights of property whatsoever, by denying a man’s right to the products of his labor. It asserts that government has the right, at its own discretion, to take from any man the fruits of his labor, giving him in return such compensation only, for his labor, as the government deems reasonable.
If this principle be a sound one, it should be carried out towards all other persons, as well as inventors. A man, who has converted wild land into a productive farm, should be allowed to enjoy that farm only until the government thinks he is reasonably paid for his labor. Then it should be taken from him. There is no reason why the greatest benefactors of mankind should be made the victims of an arbitrary discretion, destructive of their natural rights to the fruits of their labor, when the rule is applied to no one else. Other men, who have never added one thousandth part so much to the general stock of wealth, are allowed to amass large fortunes, without the liability of having it all taken from them, except so much as the government may chance to think will be a reasonable compensation for the labor expended in acquiring it. What right has government to make any such distinction as that?
But what is “reasonable compensation” for a man’s labor? It is what the labor is really worth, is it not? Most certainly it is. And what is any and all labor worth? It is worth just what it produces, and no more. This is the precise value of all labor. Labor that produces nothing, is worth nothing. Labor that produces much, is worth much. The labor, which it costs a man to pick up a pebble, is just worth a pebble, and no more. The labor, which it costs a man to pick up a diamond, is worth the diamond, by the same rule that the other labor was worth the pebble, and only a pebble. Each kind of labor is worth the thing it produces, because it produces that thing. There is no other way of determining the value of labor. There is no arbitrary standard of the value of labor; although when labor itself is sold in the market, (instead of the products of labor,) an arbitrary price is fixed upon it, either because the necessities of the laborer compel him to sell his labor at an arbitrary price, or because it is not known beforehand how much his labor will be worth. In such case, the purchaser of the labor takes his risk whether the labor will prove to be worth more or less than the price he pays for it. If it produce more than he pays for it, he makes a profit. If it produce less, he makes a loss. But this price that he pays has nothing to do in fixing the real value of the labor. The exact value of the labor cannot be known until its products are known. Then the true value of the labor is determined and measured by the value of its products.
Labor has no value of itself. If it produced nothing, it would be worth nothing. Of necessity, therefore, every separate act of labor is worth precisely what it produces—be it little or much. A man, therefore, does not receive the full value of his labor, unless he receive the whole of its products.
Those, who talk about the justice of the government’s allowing an inventor reasonable compensation for his labor, talk as if the government had employed the inventor to labor for it for wages—the government taking the risk whether he invented any thing of value, or not. In such a case, the government would be entitled to the invention, on paying the inventor his stipulated, or reasonable, wages. But the government does not employ an inventor to invent a steamboat, or a telegraph. He invents it while laboring on his own account. If he succeed, therefore, the whole fruits of his labor are rightfully his; if he fail, he bears the loss. He never calls upon the government to pay him for his labor that was unsuccessful; and the government never yet undertook to pay for the labor of the hundreds and thousands of unfortunate men, who attempted inventions, and failed. With what force, then, can it claim to seize the fruits of their successful labor, leaving them only what it pleases to call a reasonable compensation, or reasonable wages, for their labor? If the government were to do thus towards other men generally than inventors, there would be a revolution instantly. Such a government would be universally regarded as the most audacious and monstrous of tyrannics.
If a man, while laboring for himself, and at his own risk, have produced much wealth, with little labor, it is his good fortune, or the result of his good judgment, and superior powers. No one but himself has any claim upon the products of his labor; and it is the sheerest robbery to take them from him without his consent.