Tony taught Business and Aeronautics courses for eight years; he holds a Master's degree in Management and is completing a PhD in Organizational Psychology
What Are Property Rights?
At first glance, the definition of property rights seems very straightforward. We define property rights as a right to specific property, whether intangible or tangible. In many cases, property rights are clear. If you own a car and have a title to that car in your name, then the property rights to drive, sell, lend, lease, or scrap that car belong to you. However, the courts are filled with cases of different people who believe that certain property rights belong to them. If we break down the term into its separate parts of property and rights, then we may see the reason for the debate.
Even though the definition of property rights appears to be simple, all you have to do is ask ten different attorneys the definition of property and you are likely to find there's many, many different types of property! They can include community property, abandoned property, distressed, intangible, marital, mislaid, personal, private, public, and real.
For the purposes of this lesson, we're going to talk mostly about real property, or land, although we'll get to intangible property later on. When considering real property, the owner's rights to use the land may differ based on his or her perception of ownership. Most will agree that land owners have the right to anything that's stationary on the land, such as houses, trees or other plant life, rocks or minerals, and crops. However, others may disagree when it comes to rights regarding things that move, such deer that walk through the property, birds that fly overhead, and water that flows across the land.
When it comes to rights, even the legal definition becomes somewhat unclear. Rights can be something that is 'proper under the law, morality, or ethics.' Each of us has our own definition of morality and ethical behavior, which means that it is common for two or more people to have various opinions but still feel that they are right under the law.
History and Examples
Past history shows that property rights, especially when it comes to land, have been the main source of power and income for individuals, groups, and governments. For example, colonists and Native Americans fought over land rights. Banks can foreclose on houses when proper payments are not made. Finally, governments tax people within their jurisdiction based on the property they own.
Many of our current laws have been adapted from English common law, which is laws and statutes made from judges in England. These volumes of legal codes are constantly being interpreted in judges' rulings today, including interpretations of what is legal, moral, and ethical when it comes to the different types of property.
An example of major change regarding property rights came as a result of the Married Women's Property Acts that began in 1839. Under English common law, married women only had rights to property through their husband. They could not purchase property of their own, receive a salary, enter into contracts, or write a will. Over the years, American courts changed their view of women's property rights until the rights of both men and women to own property were recognized.
Current property laws for individuals and businesses have changed over the years to adapt to our culture and technology. To take one example, larger businesses may have entire legal teams on their staff to help the company when it comes to property rights for things you cannot even see, or intangible property. Intangible property is defined as property that can't be touched or doesn't have a physical substance, which includes patents, copyrights, and trademarks. All of these are very important sources of revenue for businesses and other organizations.
Property rights refer to the ability of an entity, whether a person or group, to exercise ownership over a tangible or intangible item. As a society, our views of property and who has rights to them have changed substantially over the years. There are many types of property, and even though most people agree with a major portion of what an owner can do with his or her property, there are times when opinions differ and the rights of one person may interfere with the rights of someone else.
The term rights includes legal, moral, and ethical situations, which may vary among people with different views of what is moral or ethical in a given scenario. Rights to property have historically provided a source of wealth and power, but the definition of who has those rights has expanded through new interpretations of the law via judicial decisions. Finally, our expanding culture and technology have also played a major role in how we define and use property rights in our everyday lives.
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