Property

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The Jolly Contrarian’s Glossary

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Property
/ˈprɒpəti/ (n.)

Something capable of being owned. Not just held, but owned.[1]. Possession and ownership are different things. Ownership implies you can keep it, pledge it, licence it, lease it, declare a trust over it — you can act as an economic rentier with respect to it.

Types of property

There is real property (i.e., land), personal property (material, ownable stuff that isn’t land) and intellectual property (immaterial, ownable stuff). Each of these deserves its own page. Intellectual property even has one.

Wieselspiele alert

I know what you are thinking, and you’re right: weasel word alert. “Material” and “ownable”.

Material versus immaterial: Being “material” usually involves some kind of extension into the physical realm of some sort: easy cases are things like bicycles, Stratocasters or books, but some fairly intangible things count as material: non-cash financial assets for very good example. And also books as things — paper, ink, binding and so on — are certainly items of personal property; the disembodied copyrightable text embedded in that physical substrate is not personal property; it is intellectual property.

Ownable: This might seem a little circular, but to be property, something must be capable of being owned. Most things are capable, in theory, or being owned: for real and personal property ownership means being able to give up possession of the item without surrendering title to it: I could lend you my Stratocaster, or pledge it to you as security for my debts (I won’t, by the way, before you ask) but, until you enforce some security over it, it remains mine. Cash is not property, since title passes by transfer, and no-one has a better claim to cash than the person in whose wallet it sits for the time being.[2] In intellectual property since there is a threshold requirement of creativity, there is no copyright in simple data, so data cannot be owned “intellectual property”.

Short points

See also

References

  1. “Ford! Ford! We just needed to be held!”
    “Well, you got the bonus plan. Ohhh.”
  2. Most money sits in a bank account, and one’s rights to a bank account, being ones claim for a payment of money by the bank, is a personal property right.
  3. This is controversial but defendible view — not because your rights to cash are in some way attenuated compared to your rights over property, but because cash is sui generis: a special, otherworldly, elusive thing, not susceptible of mortal, human impulses like “ownership”.