Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION X.: Objection Tenth. - The Law of Intellectual Property; or An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas
Return to Title Page for The Law of Intellectual Property; or An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
SECTION X.: Objection Tenth. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Another theory, advocated by some persons, is, that abstractly, and on principles of natural justice, men have the same right of property in their ideas, that they have in any other products of their labor; but that this property requires peculiar and extra ordinary protection; and that the present laws on the subject are in the nature of a compromise between the government and the inventor; the government giving extraordinary protection for a time, and the inventor, in consideration of that protection, giving up his property at the end of that time.
There is plainly no foundation for this theory. In the first place, the government, instead of giving extraordinary protection, does not give even ordinary protection, to intellectual property, during the time for which it pretends to protect it. The only protection, that can be claimed to be extraordinary, is the benefit of records. But this certainly is not extraordinary, for it is enjoyed in common with landed property universally. Besides, the expenses of these records are paid, not by the government, but by those who are to derive a benefit from them. They are therefore no boon, no privilege, no token of extraordinary favor, on the part of the government.
But even if intellectual property were allowed extraordinary protection, that would be no excuse for taking from the owners the property itself, at the end of a limited period. Merchandise in cities is allowed an extraordinary protection, in the shape of a night police. But no one ever conceived that that was any reason why the owners should not have a perpetual property in that kind of wealth. Merchandise on the ocean also enjoys an extraordinary protection, in the shape of a navy to guard it against pirates and other enemies. But no one ever deemed that to be any reason for making such property free plunder, after the owners had enjoyed it for fourteen years. Yet there would be as much reason and justice in outlawing such property, after a specified time, as there are in outlawing intellectual property.
Various kinds of property, such as cotton and woollen manufactures, coal, iron, sugar, hemp, wool, breadstuffs, &c., &c., have, at different times, enjoyed not only all the ordinary protection against wrong-doers, but also an extraordinary protection against competition, by means of tariffs on imported commodities of like nature; whereby their prices were raised ten, twenty, thirty, and fifty per cent. above what would otherwise have been the regular market rates. The government has thus made it necessary that these advanced prices should be paid, by the people at large, to the holders of these kinds of property. Yet nobody ever proposed that, as a consideration for this extraordinary and unequal protection, the property itself, or a dollar of the capital invested in the production of it, should ever be confiscated to the government or people, at the end of fourteen years, or any other specified time. American merchant ships, in addition to being protected by an armed navy against pirates and other enemies, have been protected against the competition of foreign vessels, by laws designed to give them the monopoly of the coasting trade, and some other branches of navigation. Yet no one ever proposed that, as an offset for this extraordinary protection, all these ships should become public property at the end of fourteen years. Combustible property of all kinds is allowed an extraordinary protection, in the shape of fire companies maintained at the public expense. Yet no one ever suggested that as a consideration for this extraordinary protection, the property should be forfeited at a time fixed by law. All the property, that floats on the ocean, is allowed an extraordinary protection against shipwreck, in the shape of lighthouses and buoys, established and maintained at the public expense, also of coast surveys and charts made at the public charge. But no one ever claimed that these were any reasons why the property itself should ever be forfeited by its owners. Yet intellectual property, which never enjoyed, for a moment, the slightest extraordinary protection whatsoever, is confiscated to the public, after being enjoyed for only a brief period by its honest owners and producers.
But, in the second place, intellectual property is not allowed even ordinary protection, during the time for which the government pretends to protect it. It is not allowed, like other property, the protection of criminal laws, under which the government not only pays the expense of prosecutions, but punishes violators by imprisonment. All property, except intellectual, is allowed the benefit of these criminal laws. But intellectual property is permitted the protection only of civil suits, in which the parties pay their own expenses, and in which, if judgment be obtained, it must often be against irresponsible men, who can make no satisfaction for their wrongs. In this case, the injured party has expended his money, without either obtaining redress against the individual wrong-doer, or procuring the infliction of any punishment to operate as a warning to others.
Intellectual property neither enjoys, nor requires, extraordinary protection. It asks simply to be placed on the same footing with other property, and to be allowed the benefit of any and all those ordinary contrivances for the protection of property, which are adapted to its needs, and calculated to give it security.