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What is Property?

5. What is “property law” (or property rights)?

Most people understand property to be a physical item. The definition of property, however, is far broader than something that you can see or hold in your hand. Property is, more precisely, an individual’s rights with regard to something in existence. Property includes all of the commonly understood rights associated with physical or intangible things, such as: the right of possession (to the exclusion of others), the right of use, the right to sell or transfer, or the right to destroy.

•    Example: The writer of a book can hold the book in her hands. The book is a form of property. The owner of the copyright possesses the exclusive right to sell or license those rights to third parties for use or production. She also has the ability to prevent others from copying, selling, or licensing that book. The copyright extends far beyond the physical book to include the content within the work. In this sense, it is more of a right to something that has been created, rather than the possession of a physical asset.

•    Discussion: Try comparing the concept of property (or those rights you possess in something in existence) to any form of ownership interest in property. Is your home or car property? Is your pet property? Is a stock certificate in Apple, Inc. property? Is a patent on a new invention property? Is a secret recipe property? Is an easement on someone else’s land property? Is a membership to a gym property? Is a stream running through your back yard property? Is the server space dedicated to hosting your website a form of property?

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