The Law of Intellectual Property : Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 5

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(1808 - 1887) ~ Individualist Anarchist and Unitarian Christian Abolitionist : The greatest natural rights thinker of the 19th century was the American lawyer and maverick individualist Lysander Spooner. He responded to the tumultuous events of his era, including the Panic of 1837 and the Civil War, with pamphlets about natural rights, slavery, money, trial by jury and other timely subjects. (From : Jim Powell Bio.)
• "Again, the doctrine that the minority ought to submit to the will of the majority proceeds, not upon the principle that government is formed by voluntary association and for an agreed purpose on the part of all who contribute to its support, but upon the presumption that all government must be practically a state of war and plunder between opposing parties..." (From : "Free Political Institutions," by Lysander Spooner.)
• "The doctrine that the majority have a right to rule proceeds upon the principle that minorities have no right in the government; for certainly the minority cannot be said to have any rights in a government so long as the majority alone determine what their rights shall be." (From : "Free Political Institutions," by Lysander Spooner.)
• "There is no particle of truth in the notion that the majority have a right to rule, or exercise arbitrary power over, the minority simply because the former are more numerous than the latter. Two men have no more natural right to rule one than one has to rule two." (From : "Free Political Institutions," by Lysander Spooner.)


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Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 5


What Things are Subjects of Property?

Every conceivable thing, whether intellectual, moral, or material, of which the mind can take cognizance, and which can be possessed, held, used, controlled, and enjoyed, by one person, and not, at the same instant of time, by another person, is rightfully a subject of property.

All the wealth, that has before been described—that is, all the things, intellectual, moral, emotional, or material, that can contribute to, or constitute, the happiness or well-being of man; and that can be possessed by one man, and not at the same time by another, is rightfully a subject of property—that is, of individual ownership, control, dominion, use, and enjoyment.

The air, that a man inhales, is his, while it is inhaled. When he has exhaled it, it is no longer his. The air that he may enclose in a bottle, or in his dwelling, is his, while it is so enclosed. When he has discharged it, it is no longer his. The sun-light, that falls upon a man, or upon his land, or that comes into his dwelling, is his; and no other man has a right to forbid his enjoyment of it, or compel him to pay for it.

A man's body is his own. It is the property of his mind. (It is the mind that owns every thing, that is property. Bodies own nothing; but are themselves subjects of property—that is, of dominion. Each body is the property—that is, is under the dominion—of the mind that inhabits it.) And no man has the right, as being the proprietor, to take another man's body out of the control of his mind. In other words, no man can own another man's body.

All a man's enjoyments, all his feelings, all his happiness, are his property. They are his, and not another man's. They belong to him, and not to others. And no other man has the right to forbid him to enjoy them, or to compel him to pay for them. Other men may have enjoyments, feelings, happiness, similar, in their nature, to his. But they cannot own his feelings, his enjoyments, or his happiness. They cannot, therefore, rightfully require him to pay them for them, as if they were theirs, and not his own.

A man's ideas are his property. They are his for enjoyment, and his for use. Other men do not own his ideas. He has a right, as against all other men, to absolute dominion over his ideas. He has a right to act his own judgment, and his own pleasure, as to giving them, or selling them to other men. Other men cannot claim them of him, as if they were their property, and not his; any more than they can claim any other things whatever, that are his. If they desire them, and he does not choose to give them to them gratuitously, they must buy them of him, as they would buy any other articles of property whatever. They must pay him his price for them, or not have them. They have no more right to force him to give his ideas to them, than they have to force him to give them his purse.

Mankind universally act upon this principle. No sane man, who acknowledged the right of individual property in any thing, ever claimed that, as a natural or general principle, he was the rightful owner of the thoughts produced, and exclusively possessed, by other men's minds; or demanded them on the ground of their being his property; or denied that they were the property of their possessors.

If the ideas, which a man has produced, were not rightfully his own, but belonged equally to other men, they would have the right imperatively to require him to give his ideas to them, without compensation; and it would be just and right for them to punish him as a criminal, if he refused.

Among civilized men, ideas are common articles of traffic. The more highly cultivated a people become, the more are thoughts bought and sold. Writers, orators, teachers, of all kinds, are continually selling their thoughts for money. They sell their thoughts, as other men sell their material productions, for what they will bring in the market. The price is regulated, not solely by the intrinsic value of the ideas themselves, but also, like the prices of all other commodities, by the supply and demand. On these principles, the author sells his ideas in his volumes; the poet sells his in his verses; the editor sells his in his daily or weekly sheets; the statesman sells his in his messages, his diplomatic papers, his speeches, reports, and votes; the jurist sells his in his judgments, and judicial opinions; the lawyer sells his in his counsel, and his arguments; the physician sells his in his advice, skill, and prescriptions; the preacher sells his in his prayers and sermons; the teacher sells his in his instructions; the lecturer sells his in his lectures; the architect sells his in his plans; the artist sells his in the figure he has engraven on stone, and in the picture he has painted on canvas. In practical life, these ideas are all as much articles of merchandise, as are houses, and lands, and bread, and meat, and clothing, and fuel. Men earn their livings, and support their families, by producing and selling ideas. And no man, who has any rational ideas of his own, doubts that in so doing they earn their livelihood in as legitimate a manner as any other members of society earn theirs. He who produces food for men's minds, guides for their hands in labor, and rules for their conduct in life, is as meritorious a producer, as he who produces food or shelter for their bodies.

Again. We habitually talk of the ideas of particular authors, editors, poets, statesmen, judges, lawyers, physicians, preachers, teachers, artists, &c., as being worth less than the price that is asked or paid for them, in particular instances; and of other men's ideas, as being worth more than the price that is paid for them, in particular instances; just as we talk of other and material commodities, as being worth less or more than the prices at which they are sold. We thus recognize ideas as being legitimate articles of traffic, and as having a regular market value, like other commodities.

Because all men give more or less of their thoughts gratuitously to their fellow men, in conversation, or otherwise, it does not follow at all that their thoughts are not their property, which they have a natural right to set their own price upon, and to withhold from other men, unless the price be paid. Their thoughts are thus given gratuitously, or in exchange for other men's thoughts, (as in conversation,) either for the reason that they would bring nothing more in the market, or would bring too little to compensate for the time and labor of putting them in a marketable form, and selling them. Their market value is too small to make it profitable to sell them. Such thoughts men give away gratuitously, or in exchange for such thoughts as other men voluntarily give in return—just as men give to each other material commodities of small value, as nuts, and apples, a piece of bread, a cup of water, a meal of victuals, from motives of complaisance and friendship, or in expectation of receiving similar favors in return; and not because these articles are not as much property, as are the most valuable commodities that men ever buy or sell. But for nearly all information that is specially valuable, or valuable enough to command a price worth demanding—though it be given in one's private car, as legal or medical advice, for example—a pecuniary compensation is demanded, with nearly the same uniformity as for a material commodity. And no one doubts that such information is a legitimate and lawful consideration for the equivalent paid. Courts of justice uniformly recognize them as such, as in the case of legal, medical, and various other kinds of information. One man can sue for and recover pay for ideas, which, as lawyer, physician, teacher, or editor, he has sold to another man, just as he can for land, food, clothing, or fuel.


November 30, 1854 :
Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 5 -- Publication.

January 09, 2020 10:49:58 :
Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 5 -- Added to


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