The British monopoly on the salt trade in India dictated that the sale or production of salt by anyone but the British government was a criminal offense punishable by law. Salt was readily accessible to coastal area dwellers, but instead of being allowed to collect and use it themselves for free, they were instead forced to purchase it from the colonial government.
In other words, the British government owned the right to produce and sell salt in India.
And another page says:
On April 5, 1930 Gandhi and his satyagrahis reached the coast. After prayers were offered, Gandhi spoke to the large crowd. He picked up a tiny lump of salt, breaking the law. Within moments, the satyagrahis followed Gandhi's passive defiance, picking up salt everywhere along the coast. A month later, Gandhi was arrested and thrown into prison, already full with fellow protesters.
Was Gandhi stealing salt from the British government, or was he simply breaking the law which gave the British the exclusive right to produce salt?
Since Gandhi wasn't actually taking the salt away from the British, and the ocean contained a practically infinite supply of salt (so it can't be claimed that he was taking it from anyone else), I'd argue that he was not stealing anything.
Did Gandhi steal the legal "right" to produce salt? Not really. A right has no substance or physical reality, so it is difficult to outright steal one (you could perhaps trick someone into signing a contract transferring the right, but clearly that's not the case here).
Gandhi's actions DID decrease the value of the British right to produce salt, but many actions could have that effect. For example, he could have convinced the people of India to switch to a lower salt diet, thereby decreasing the demand for salt and the value of the British monopoly. I don't think that anyone would call that stealing.
In fact, I've never seen anyone claim that Gandhi was a thief. It seems like a somewhat silly argument.
So what's my point? Owning a "right", which is a form of "Imaginary Property", is not the same as owning real property. If someone violates your exclusive rights, they may be breaking the law, but they are not stealing. To claim otherwise is silly and dishonest.
Update: Some people have interpreted this post as meaning that I'm opposed to Imaginary Property, or that infringing on other's legal rights is ok. That is not the case at all -- IP can serve an important and beneficial role in society. My only point is that Imaginary Property is not the same as Real Property, and that infringing on someone's legal rights isn't the same as theft. Pretending that they are the same has caused a lot of unnecessary trouble.