The Law of Intellectual Property
by Lysander Spooner, with an introductory essay by Wendy McElroy.
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The Law of Intellectual Property is Lysander Spooner's definitive and controversial book on the natural right to own ideas. Subtitled "An Essay on the Right of Authors and Inventors to a Perpetual Property in their Ideas," Spooner advanced a radical and absolute right of a creator to his property in ideas. Considered by many to be the quintessential 19th century American individualist anarchist, Spooner exerted great influence over a younger generation of radicals who, nevertheless, tended to disagree strongly with his pro-IP arguments.
IP advocates insisted that ideas were property because they were the products of human labor, like chairs or tables, and every person rightfully owned what his labor produced. Spooner stated, "Property is simply wealth, that is possessed — that has an owner; in contradistinction to wealth, that has no owner, but lies exposed, unpossessed, and ready to be converted into property, by whomsoever chooses to make it his own" (emphasis in the original). Spooner continued, "Any article of wealth which a man creates or produces by the exercise of any portion of his wealth producing faculties is … clearly his rightful property." Spooner considered such ownership to be absolute and perpetual; "the principle of individual property … says that each man has an absolute dominion, as against all other men, over the products and acquisitions of his own labor." In short, intellectual property was a natural right.
Opponents of IP countered by claiming that the proper reward for such labor was the specific idea produced and, if ownership of future instances of the idea could not be maintained by contract, then there was no natural right to an intangible 'thing'..
Intellectual property — as embodied in copyright and patent — was the subject of intense debate within the pivotal 19th century libertarian periodical Liberty. Benjamin Tucker flatly rejected the idea that legal copyright was compatible with anarchism. A debate on intellectual property within Liberty was, perhaps, inevitable with a clash of concepts that could not be reconciled. Indeed, Spooner wrote, "So absolute is an author's right of dominion over his ideas that he may forbid their being communicated even by human voice if he so pleases."
Whether you accept or reject patents and copyrights as natural rights, The Law of Intellectual Property is a classic not only within libertarianism but within the field of IP. First published in 1855, it is unsurpassed in its arguments for the pro-IP side of the debate. The introduction by Wendy McElroy provides a balanced and invaluable context for the debate on intellectual property within 19th century libertarianism that was sparked by Spooner's classic work.
SECTION 1. The Right of Property in Ideas to be proved by Analogy, 9
SECTION 2. What is Wealth? 10
SECTION 3. What is Property? 15
SECTION 4. What is the Right of Property? 15
SECTION 5. What Things are Subjects of Properly? 17
SECTION 6. How is the Right of Property Acquired? 21
SECTION 7. What is the Foundation of the Right of Property? 28
SECTION 8. How is the Right of Properly Transferred? 29
SECTION 9. Conclusions from the preceding Principles, 30
CHAPTER II. OBJECTIONS ANSWERED, 31
SECTION 1. Objection First 31
SECTION 2. Objection Second 41
SECTION 3. Objection Third 57
SECTION 4. Objection Fourth, 59
SECTION 5. Objection Fourth 61
SECTION 6. Objection Sixth 64
SECTION 7. Objection Seventh, 68
SECTION 8. Objection Eighth 69
SECTION 9. Objection Ninth 70
SECTION 10. Objection Tenth 73
SECTION 11. Objection Eleventh 75
SECTION 12. Objection Twelfth 91
SECTION 13. Objection Thirteenth 102
SECTION 14. Objection Fourteenth 105
SECTION 15. Objection Fifteenth 108
CHAPTER III. PERPETUITY AND DESCENT OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
SECTION 1. Perpetuity of Intellectual Property,
SECTION 2. Descent of Intellectual Property,
CHAPTER IV. THE SALE OF IDEAS 113
CHAPTER V. THE POLICY OF PERPETUITY IN INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, 135