Property law is the area of law that governs the various forms of ownership and tenancy in real property (land as distinct from personal or movable possessions) and in personal property, within the common law legal system. In the civil law system, there is a division between movable and immovable property. Movable property roughly corresponds to personal property, while immovable property corresponds to real estate or real property, and the associated rights, and obligations thereon.
The concept, idea or philosophy of property underlies all property law. In some jurisdictions, historically all property was owned by the monarch and it devolved through feudal land tenure or other feudal systems of loyalty and fealty.
Though the Napoleonic code was among the first government acts of modern times to introduce the notion of absolute ownership into statute, protection of personal property rights was present in medieval Islamic law and jurisprudence, and in more feudalist forms in the common law courts of medieval and early modern England as well
The word property, in everyday usage, refers to an object (or objects) owned by a person — a car, a book, or a cellphone — and the relationship the person has to it. In law, the concept acquires a more nuanced rendering. Factors to consider include the nature of the object, the relationship between the person and the object, the relationship between a number of people in relation to the object, and how the object is regarded within the prevailing political system. Most broadly and concisely, property in the legal sense refers to the rights of people in or over certain objects or things.
James Wilson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice and professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, in 1790 and 1791, undertook a survey of the philosophical grounds of American property law. He proceeds from two premises: “Every crime includes an injury: every injury includes a violation of a right.” (Lectures, III, ii.) The government’s role in protecting property depends upon an idea of right. Wilson traces the history of property in his essay "On the History of Property." In his lecture, "Of the natural rights of individuals" (Lectures II, xii), he articulates related contemporary theory.
That theory was brought to a focus on the question of whether man exists for the sake of government, or government for the sake of man – a distinction which may derive from, or lead to, the question of natural and absolute rights, and whether property is one of them. While he doubts this is so, he nonetheless states: “In his unrelated state, man has a natural right to his property, to his character, to liberty, and to safety.” James Wilson asks whether “the primary and principal object in the institution of government… was… to acquire new rights by human establishment? Or was it, by a human establishment, to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights….?” He indicates a preference for the latter.
In the opening sentence of "On the History of Property," he states quite clearly: “Property is the right or lawful power, which a person has to a thing.” He then divides the right into three degrees: possession, the lowest; possession and use; and, possession, use, and disposition – the highest. Further, he states: “Man is intended for action. Useful and skillful industry is the soul of an active life. But industry should have her just reward. That reward is property, for of useful and active industry, property is the natural result.” From this simple reasoning he is able to present the conclusion that exclusive, as opposed to communal property, is to be preferred. Wilson does, however, give a survey of communal property arrangements in history, not only in colonial Virginia but also ancient Sparta.
Non-legally recognized or documented property rights are known as informal property rights. These informal property rights are non-codified or documented, but recognized among local residents to varying degrees.
Different parties may claim a competing interest in the same property by mistake or by fraud. For example, the party creating or transferring an interest may have a valid title, but may intentionally or negligently create several interests wholly or partially inconsistent with each other. A court resolves the dispute by adjudicating the priorities of the interests. The term "transfer of property" generally means an act by which a living person conveys property, in present or in future, to one or more other living persons, or to himself and one or more other living persons. To transfer property is to perform such an act.
Property rights are rights over things enforceable against all other persons. By contrast, contractual rights are rights enforceable against particular persons. Property rights may, however, arise from a contract; the two systems of rights overlap. In relation to the sale of land, for example, two sets of legal relationships exist alongside one another: the contractual right to sue for damages, and the property right exercisable over the land. More minor property rights may be created by contract, as in the case of easements, covenants, and equitable servitudes.
A separate distinction is evident where the rights granted are insufficiently substantial to confer on the nonowner a definable interest or right in the thing. The clearest example of these rights is the license. In general, even if licenses are created by a binding contract, they do not give rise to property interests.
Property rights are also distinguished from personal rights. Practically all contemporary societies acknowledge this basic ontological and ethical distinction. In the past, groups lacking political power have often been disqualified from the benefits of property. In an extreme form, this has meant that people have become "objects" of property—legally "things" or chattels (see slavery.) More commonly, marginalized groups have been denied legal rights to own property. These include Jews in England and married women in Western societies until the late 19th century.
The dividing line between personal rights and property rights is not always easy to draw. For instance, is one's reputation property that can be commercially exploited by affording property rights to it? The question of the proprietary character of personal rights is particularly relevant in the case of rights over human tissue, organs and other body parts.
The rights of women to control their own body have been in some times and some places subordinated to other people's control over their fetus. For example, government intervention that controls the conditions of birthing by prohibiting or requiring caesarian sections. Whether and how a woman becomes pregnant or carries a pregnancy to term is also subject to laws mandating or forbidding abortion, or restricting access to birth control. A woman's right to control her body during pregnancy or possible pregnancy – what work she does, what food or substances she ingests, other activities she engages in – have also frequently been subject to restrictions by many other parties; in response, a number of countries have passed laws banning pregnancy discrimination. English judges have recently made the point that such women lack the right to exclusive control over their own bodies, formerly considered a fundamental common-law right.
In the United States, a "quasi-property" interest has been explicitly declared in the dead body. Also in the United States, it has been recognised that people have an alienable proprietary "right of publicity" over their "persona". The patent/patenting of biotechnological processes and products based on human genetic material may be characterised as creating property in human life.
A particularly difficult question is whether people have rights to intellectual property developed by others from their body parts. In the pioneering case on this issue, the Supreme Court of California held in Moore v. Regents of the University of California (1990) that individuals do not have such a property right.
Property law is characterised by a great deal of historical continuity and technical terminology. The basic distinction in common law systems is between real property (land) and personal property (chattels).
Before the mid-19th century, the principles governing the transfer of real property and personal property on an intestacy were quite different. Though this dichotomy does not have the same significance anymore, the distinction is still fundamental because of the essential differences between the two categories. An obvious example is the fact that land is immovable, and thus the rules that govern its use must differ. A further reason for the distinction is that legislation is often drafted employing the traditional terminology.
The division of land and chattels has been criticised as being not satisfactory as a basis for categorising the principles of property law since it concentrates attention not on the proprietary interests themselves but on the objects of those interests. Moreover, in the case of fixtures, chattels which are affixed to or placed on land may become part of the land.
Real property is generally sub-classified into:
The concept of possession developed from a legal system whose principal concern was to avoid civil disorder. The general principle is that a person in possession of land or goods, even as a wrongdoer, is entitled to take action against anyone interfering with the possession unless the person interfering is able to demonstrate a superior right to do so.
In England, the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 has significantly amended the law relating to wrongful interference with goods and abolished some longstanding remedies and doctrines.
The most common method of acquiring an interest in property is as the result of a consensual transaction with the previous owner, for example, a sale or a gift. Dispositions by will may also be regarded as consensual transactions, since the effect of a will is to provide for the distribution of the deceased person's property to nominated beneficiaries. A person may also obtain an interest in property under a trust established for his or her benefit by the owner of the property.
It is also possible for property to pass from one person to another independently of the consent of the property owner. For example, this occurs when a person dies intestate, goes bankrupt, or has the property taken in execution of a court judgment.
Different parties may claim an interest in property by mistake or fraud, with the claims being inconsistent of each other. For example, the party creating or transferring an interest may have a valid title, but intentionally or negligently creates several interests wholly or partially inconsistent with each other. A court resolves the dispute by adjudicating the priorities of the interests. According to the Indian property law, it define the ‘Transfer of property’ means an act by which a living person conveys property, in present or in future, to one or more other living persons, or to himself and one or more other living persons; and "to transfer property" is to perform such act.
In this section "living person includes a company or association or body of individuals, whether incorporated or not, but nothing herein contained shall affect any law for the time being in force relating to transfer of property to or by companies, associations or bodies of individuals.
Historically, leases served many purposes, and the regulation varied according to intended purposes and the economic conditions of the time. Leaseholds, for example, were mainly granted for agriculture until the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, when the growth of cities made the leasehold an important form of landholding in urban areas.
The modern law of landlord and tenant in common law jurisdictions retains the influence of the common law and, particularly, the laissez-faire philosophy that dominated the law of contract and the law of property in the 19th century. With the growth of consumerism, the law of consumer protection recognised that common law principles assuming equal bargaining power between parties may cause unfairness. Consequently, reformers have emphasised the need to assess residential tenancy laws in terms of protection they provide to tenants. Legislation to protect tenants is now common.
In property law, alienation is the voluntary act of an owner of some property disposing of the property, while alienable is the capacity for a piece of property or a property right to be sold or otherwise transferred from one party to another. Most property is alienable, but some may be subject to restraints on alienation. In England under the feudal system, land was generally transferred by subinfeudation and alienation required licence from the overlord. Some objects are incapable of being regarded as property and are inalienable, such as people and body parts. Aboriginal title is one example of inalienability (save to the Crown) in common law jurisdictions. A similar concept is non-transferability, such as tickets. Rights commonly described as a licence or permit are generally only personal and are not assignable. However, they are alienable in the sense that they can generally be surrendered.
English common law traditionally protected freehold landowners from unsecured creditors. In 1732, the Parliament of Great Britain passed legislation entitled “The Act for the More Easy Recovery of Debts in His Majesty’s Plantations and Colonies in America”, which required all real property in British America to be treated as chattel for debt collection purposes. The legislation was reenacted by many statehouses after the American Revolution, leading to the more commodified and transferable development of American property law.Charter
A charter is the grant of authority or rights, stating that the granter formally recognizes the prerogative of the recipient to exercise the rights specified. It is implicit that the granter retains superiority (or sovereignty), and that the recipient admits a limited (or inferior) status within the relationship, and it is within that sense that charters were historically granted, and that sense is retained in modern usage of the term.
The word entered the English language from the Old French charte, via Latin charta, and ultimately from Greek χάρτης (khartes, meaning "layer of papyrus"). It has come to be synonymous with a document that sets out a grant of rights or privileges.Chinese property law
Chinese property law has existed in various forms for centuries. After the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, most land is owned by collectivities or by the state; the Property Law of the People's Republic of China passed in 2007 codified property rights.Conveyancing
In law, conveyancing is the transfer of legal title of real property from one person to another, or the granting of an encumbrance such as a mortgage or a lien. A typical conveyancing transaction has two major phases: the exchange of contracts (when equitable interests are created) and completion (also called settlement, when legal title passes and equitable rights merge with the legal title).
The sale of land is governed by the laws and practices of the jurisdiction in which the land is located. It is a legal requirement in all jurisdictions that contracts for the sale of land be in writing. An exchange of contracts involves two copies of a contract of sale being signed, one copy of which is retained by each party. When the parties are together, both would usually sign both copies, one copy of which being retained by each party, sometimes with a formal handing over of a copy from one party to the other. However, it is usually sufficient that only the copy retained by each party be signed by the other party only — hence contracts are "exchanged". This rule enables contracts to be "exchanged" by mail. Both copies of the contract of sale become binding only after each party is in possession of a copy of the contract signed by the other party—ie., the exchange is said to be "complete". An exchange by electronic means is generally insufficient for an exchange, unless the laws of the jurisdiction expressly validate such signatures.
It is the responsibility of the buyer of real property to ensure that he or she obtains a good and marketable title to the land—ie., that the seller is the owner, has the right to sell the property, and there is no factor which would impede a mortgage or re-sale. Some jurisdictions have legislated some protections for the buyer, besides the ability for the buyer to do searches relating to the property.
A system of conveyancing is usually designed to ensure that the buyer secures title to the land together with all the rights that run with the land, and is notified of any restrictions in advance of purchase. Many jurisdictions have adopted a system of land registration to facilitate conveyancing and encourage reliance on public records and assure purchasers of land that they are taking good title.Ejido
In the Mexican system of government, an ejido (Spanish pronunciation: [eˈxiðo], from Latin exitum) is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually farm designated parcels and collectively maintain communal holdings. Ejidos are registered with Mexico's National Agrarian Registry (Registro Agrario Nacional). The system of ejidos was based on an understanding of the Aztec calpulli and the medieval Spanish ejido.English property law
English property law refers to the law of acquisition, sharing and protection of valuable assets in England and Wales. While part of the United Kingdom, many elements of Scots property law are different. In England, property law encompasses four main topics:
English land law, or the law of "real property"
English trusts law
English personal property law
United Kingdom intellectual property lawProperty in land is the domain of the law of real property. The law of personal property is particularly important for commercial law and insolvency. Trusts affect everything in English property law. Intellectual property is also an important branch of the law of property. For unregistered land see Unregistered land in English law.Escheat
Escheat is a common law doctrine that transfers the real property of a person who died without heirs to the Crown or state. It serves to ensure that property is not left in "limbo" without recognized ownership. It originally applied to a number of situations where a legal interest in land was destroyed by operation of law, so that the ownership of the land reverted to the immediately superior feudal lord.Estate (law)
An estate, in common law, is the net worth of a person at any point in time alive or dead. It is the sum of a person's assets – legal rights, interests and entitlements to property of any kind – less all liabilities at that time. The issue is of special legal significance on a question of bankruptcy and death of the person. (See inheritance.)
Depending on the particular context, the term is also used in reference to an estate in land or of a particular kind of property (such as real estate or personal estate). The term is also used to refer to the sum of a person's assets only.
The equivalent in civil law legal systems is patrimony.Fee simple
In English law, a fee simple or fee simple absolute is an estate in land, a form of freehold ownership. It is a way that real estate and land may be owned in common law countries, and is the highest possible ownership interest that can be held in real property. Allodial title is reserved to governments under a civil law structure. The rights of the fee simple owner are limited by government powers of taxation, compulsory purchase, police power, and escheat, and it could also be limited further by certain encumbrances or conditions in the deed, such as, for example, a condition that required the land to be used as a public park, with a reversion interest in the grantor if the condition fails; this is a fee simple conditional.Fief
A fief (; Latin: feudum) was the central element of feudalism and consisted of heritable property or rights granted by an overlord to a vassal who held it in fealty (or "in fee") in return for a form of feudal allegiance and service, usually given by the personal ceremonies of homage and fealty. The fees were often lands or revenue-producing real property held in feudal land tenure: these are typically known as fiefs or fiefdoms. However, not only land but anything of value could be held in fee, including governmental office, rights of exploitation such as hunting or fishing, monopolies in trade, and tax farms.GNU Manifesto
The GNU Manifesto was written by Richard Stallman and published in March 1985 in Dr. Dobb's Journal of Software Tools as an explanation of goals of the GNU Project, and as a call for support and participation in developing GNU, a free software computer operating system. It is held in high regard within the free software movement as a fundamental philosophical source.The full text is included with GNU software such as Emacs, and is publicly available.Intellectual property
Intellectual property (IP) is a category of property that includes intangible creations of the human intellect. Intellectual property encompasses two types of rights; industrial property rights (trademarks, patents, designations of origin, industrial designs and models) and copyright. It was not until the 19th century that the term "intellectual property" began to be used, and not until the late 20th century that it became commonplace in the majority of the world.The main purpose of intellectual property law is to encourage the creation of a large variety of intellectual goods. To achieve this, the law gives people and businesses property rights to the information and intellectual goods they create – usually for a limited period of time. This gives economic incentive for their creation, because it allows people to profit from the information and intellectual goods they create. These economic incentives are expected to stimulate innovation and contribute to the technological progress of countries, which depends on the extent of protection granted to innovators.The intangible nature of intellectual property presents difficulties when compared with traditional property like land or goods. Unlike traditional property, intellectual property is "indivisible" – an unlimited number of people can "consume" an intellectual good without it being depleted. Additionally, investments in intellectual goods suffer from problems of appropriation – a landowner can surround their land with a robust fence and hire armed guards to protect it, but a producer of information or an intellectual good can usually do very little to stop their first buyer from replicating it and selling it at a lower price. Balancing rights so that they are strong enough to encourage the creation of intellectual goods but not so strong that they prevent the goods' wide use is the primary focus of modern intellectual property law.Land tenure
In common law systems, land tenure is the legal regime in which land is owned by an individual, who is said to "hold" the land. It determines who can use land, for how long, and under what conditions. Tenure may be based both on official laws and policies, and on informal customs. The French verb "tenir" means "to hold" and "tenant" is the present participle of "tenir". The sovereign monarch, known as The Crown, held land in its own right. All private owners are either its tenants or sub-tenants. Tenure signifies the relationship between tenant and lord, not the relationship between tenant and land. Over history, many different forms of land ownership, i.e., ways of owning land, have been established.
A landholder/landowner is a holder of the estate in land with considerable rights of ownership or, simply put, an owner of land.Open knowledge
Open knowledge is knowledge that one is free to use, reuse, and redistribute without legal, social or technological restriction. Open knowledge is a set of principles and methodologies related to the production and distribution of how knowledge works in an open manner. Knowledge is interpreted broadly to include data, content and general information.
The concept is related to open source and the Open Knowledge Definition is directly derived from the Open Source Definition. Open knowledge can be seen as being a superset of open data, open content and libre open access with the aim of highlighting the commonalities between these different groups.Personal property
Personal property is generally considered property that is movable, as opposed to real property or real estate. In common law systems, personal property may also be called chattels or personalty. In civil law systems, personal property is often called movable property or movables – any property that can be moved from one location to another.
Personal property is movable and can be understood in comparison to immovable property or real property, such as land and buildings. Movable property on land, for example, larger livestock, was not automatically sold with the land, it was "personal" to the owner and moved with the owner. The word cattle is the Old Norman variant of Old French chatel, chattel (derived from Latin capitalis, “of the head”), which was once synonymous with general movable personal property.Property Law of the People's Republic of China
The Property Law of the People's Republic of China (Chinese: 《中华人民共和国物权法》; pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Wùquán Fǎ) is a property law adopted by the National People's Congress in 2007 that went into effect on October 1, 2007. The law covers the creation, transfer, and ownership of property in the mainland of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and is part of an ongoing effort by the PRC to gradually develop a civil code. In developing civil law in the PRC mainland, the PRC government has used the German Pandectist system of classification under which the property law corresponds to the law on real rights, which is the term used in Chinese for the official name of the law.Public property
Public property is property that is dedicated to public use and is a subset of state property. The term may be used either to describe the use to which the property is put, or to describe the character of its ownership (owned collectively by the population of a state). This is in contrast to private property, owned by an individual person or artificial entities that represent the financial interests of persons, such as corporations. State ownership, also called public ownership, government ownership or state property, are property interests that are vested in the state, rather than an individual or communities.Sweat of the brow
Sweat of the brow is an intellectual property law doctrine, chiefly related to copyright law. According to this doctrine, an author gains rights through simple diligence during the creation of a work, such as a database, or a directory. Substantial creativity or "originality" is not required.
Under a "sweat of the brow" doctrine, the creator of a copyrighted work, even if it is completely unoriginal, is entitled to have his effort and expense protected, and no one else may use such a work without permission, but must instead recreate the work by independent research or effort. The classic example is a telephone directory. In a "sweat of the brow" jurisdiction, such a directory may not be copied, but instead a competitor must independently collect the information to issue a competing directory. The same rule generally applies to databases and lists of facts.
Civil law jurisdictions have traditionally used the similar but not identical concept of droit d'auteur. European Union law tends to harmonize the protection of intellectual property throughout member states and the doctrine thus gains more influence. In the Databases Directive 96/9/EC—the member states of the EU are obliged to confer protection known as the database right on non-original databases, that is on those that embody no creativity, but are a consequence of substantial investment (financial, labour etc.).Will and testament
A will or testament is a legal document by which a person, the testator, expresses their wishes as to how their property is to be distributed at death, and names one or more persons, the executor, to manage the estate until its final distribution. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.
Though it has at times been thought that a "will" was historically limited to real property while "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property (thus giving rise to the popular title of the document as "Last Will and Testament"), the historical records show that the terms have been used interchangeably. Thus, the word "will" validly applies to both personal and real property. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.
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