Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XIII.: Objection Thirteenth. - 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 XIII.: Objection Thirteenth. - 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 society have rights in ideas, that have been once made known to them; that a perpetual monopoly in the producer, destroys the rights of society; and that society have a right to perpetuate ideas once made known.
Hence it is inferred that society have a right to confiscate ideas, and make them free to all, in order to prevent the producer’s withholding them from the public, and thus causing them to perish unused.
The primary assumption here is, “that society have rights in ideas once made known to them.” From this assumption, the other assumptions and the inference naturally follow. They depend solely upon it, and are nothing without it. If, then, the first assumption be baseless, the others and the inference are equally so.
What rights society have, in ideas, which they did not produce, and have never purchased, it would probably be very difficult to define; and equally difficult to explain how society became possessed of those rights. It certainly requires something more than assertion, to prove that by simply coming to a knowledge of certain ideas—the products of individual labor—society acquires any valid title to them, or, consequently, any rights in them.
There would clearly be just as much reason in saying that society have rights in material commodities—the products of individual labor—because their existence had become known to the public, as there is in saying that they have rights in ideas—the products of individual labor—simply because their existence had become known to the public. There would, for example, be just as much reason in saying, that society have rights in a thousand, or a hundred thousand, bushels of wheat—the product of individual labor—on the ground that the existence of this wheat had become known to them, as there is in saying that they have rights in a mechanical invention—the product of individual labor—on the ground that its existence has become known to them. And there would be just as much reason in saying, that society have a right to confiscate this wheat, and distribute it gratuitously among the people, in order to prevent the producer’s withholding it from market, and suffering it to rot, as there is in saying that society have a right to confiscate a mechanical invention, and make it free to the public, in order to prevent the inventor’s withholding it from market, and suffering it to be lost.
If, however, this doctrine be true, in favor of society, it must be equally true in favor of single individuals; for society is only a number of individuals, who have no rights except as individuals. The consequence of the doctrine, therefore, would be, that every private individual would have rights in every commodity, the existence of which should come to his knowledge! He would also, of course, have the right, (now claimed for society,) of preserving such commodities from loss and decay. And this right would involve the still further right, (now claimed for society,) of taking such commodities out of the hands of the producers, and appropriating them to his own use, in order to prevent the producer’s withholding them from him, and suffering them to perish unused by him! This is the legitimate result of the principle contended for.
This doctrine, that society have rights in all commodities, in consequence of the commodities becoming known to them; and that they have a right to confiscate them, and apply them to the public use, in order to prevent the producer’s withholding them from market, and suffering them to perish unused, would certainly afford a very convenient and efficacious mode of destroying all private property, and throwing every thing into common stock. But what other purpose it could serve, it is not easy to see. If the doctrine be a sound one, in regard to material commodities, it is undoubtedly sound also in regard to intellectual commodities. But if it be the height of absurdity and tyranny, in regard to material commodities, it is equally absurd and tyrannical in regard to ideas.
The doctrine is also as unsound in policy, as it is in law; since it would cause a thousand commodities to perish unused, or prevent their ever being produced, as often as it would save one from thus perishing. If a man be allowed an absolute property in the products of his labor, and can forbid others to use them, except with his consent, he then has a motive to preserve them, and bring them to market; because, if they are valuable, they will command a price. Hence he will suffer few or none of them to be lost. But if the products of his labor are to be confiscated, he is, in the first place, dissuaded from producing nearly as many as he otherwise would; and, secondly, such as he does produce, he will keep concealed as far as possible, in order to save them from confiscation; and the consequence will be that very many of them will perish unused.