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n. legal title coupled with exclusive legal right to possession. Co-ownership, however, means that more than one person has a legal interest in the same thing. (See: own)

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.


the full and complete right of dominion over property. It has been said that ownership is either so simple as to need no explanation or so elusive as to defy definition. At its most extreme and absolute, it means the power to enjoy and dispose of things absolutely. In almost every society the power is limited by the general law. Because it is possible under many legal systems for an owner to grant rights over a property, it maybe that the owner will be unable to use his property- the owner of a car sold on hire-purchase never drives it, indeed, may never even have seen it. Thus, ownership is often considered to be the ultimate residual right that remains after all other rights over a thing have been extinguished.

In Roman law and in civilian systems, the owner of property is usually able to recover his own property by an action called a vindicatio. For practical reasons, civilian systems usually adopt a presumption of ownership from possession and, indeed, such appears in the French and German civil codes and is a rule of law in Scotland. In English law, possession itself is protected. See CONVERSION.

Ownership is said to be original, where the owner has brought the property into human control for the first time, as by occupying land or capturing a wild animal, or derivative, where the owner acquires from the previous owner as in a sale.

So far as the most common transaction - SALE - is concerned, the law for the UK is set out by the Sale of Goods Act 1979. The English approach to ownership is adopted in the UK whereby the Act sets out who has property in the goods or who gets a good title to the goods - both concepts being practically equivalent to ownership.

Theoretically, ownership of land in England and Wales is vested in the Crown; the concept of ownership by individuals and companies is expressed through the doctrine of estates. Only two legal estates may exist since 1925, namely the fee simple absolute in possession (FREEHOLD), which is akin to absolute ownership, and the term of years absolute (LEASEHOLD), which confers ownership or possession rights for a temporary period, together with the newer COMMONHOLD.

In Scotland too, with a few exceptions, land was held feudally under the Crown. As a result of the abolition of the feudal system in Scotland the relationship of superior and vassal was abolished and the Crown ceased to be a feudal superior although many rights, such as that to property not otherwise owned, remain.

Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

OWNERSHIP, title to property. The right by which a thing belongs to some one in particular, to the exclusion of all other persons. Louis. Code, art. 480.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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