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What is “ownership”?
Ownership is a concept closely related to property. It is the legally recognized and enforceable rights that a person has to property. This concept is important because it is possible to possess property and not own it. For example, you find a valuable item on the side of the road and you cannot determine the owner. You possess the property, but you do not own it. Likewise, it is possible to own property and not possess it. Think of a situation in which you lend one of your physical possessions to a neighbor. Your neighbor has possession of the property, but you retain ownership. Ownership of property (or the bundle of rights that is property) is a form or legally provided assurance. The legal system affords the owner a claim of right that cannot be infringed upon by others without violating the law. Violating or infringing upon one’s property rights allows the property owner to use legal channels to enforce her rights (e.g., the police or court system).
- Note: Within the legal system, property is often classified based upon who owns it. For example, property may be “public property” (resources owned by the government) or “private property” (resources owned by an individual or entity). This classification will be important later when discussing the extent of property rights.
Discussion: What would you do if someone were to break into your house and take some of your physical assets? Most people answer, “I would call the police”. This is an example of using the legal system to enforce your property rights. The law allows for the ownership of those rights. Now, what would you do if someone borrows and alters a piece of machinery that you own and it no longer works? What would you do if you wish to sell one of your physical assets, but the sale falls through because someone has erroneously filed a notice of lien (ownership interest) indicating that they have ownership rights to the property? What would you do if someone distributed pictures of you to advertise her product or began earning money by playing a song you wrote? Each of these questions offers unique situations where the legal system recognizes your ownership and protects your property rights.
- By owning a piece of machinery, you reserve all the rights of deciding when to alter any parts of the machine. In the case that someone borrows your machinery and alters it without notifying you beforehand or without your consent, you have the right to sue the person under the law of torts to seek redress for the damage caused. Any losses suffered as a result of the machinery not working should be compensated by any means necessary, most likely in terms of money. Sale of property may fall through at times as a result of individuals filing erroneous notices of lien. In such cases, the complainant has the right to sue for wrongful interest of ownership of that property. Such wrongful interest in the ownership of a property may hinder the sale of that property, resulting in loss of profits or other associated proceeds. In the case of advertising, it would be unlawful to use another individual’s face to advertise a product without acquiring the rights to advertise using their face. Similarly, earning money by playing a song that someone else wrote amounts to infringement of intellectual property rights.
Katz, Larissa M., The Concept of Ownership and the Relativity of Title (November 9, 2011). Jurisprudence, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 191-203, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1957119 This article seeks to explain the relativity of title in the context of ownership in the common law.
Dan-Cohen, Meir, The Value of Ownership (January 2000). UC Berkeley Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 11. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=189830 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.189830. This article addresses the value of ownership rights.