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Awhile ago, a lot of news outlets reported on how the agreement between Martin Shkreli and the Wu Tang Clan regarding their sale of the only copy of their album included the (supposed) wording:

The buying party also agrees that, at any time during the stipulated 88 year period, the seller may legally plan and attempt to execute one (1) heist or caper to steal back Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which, if successful, would return all ownership rights to the seller.

Assuming a contract did have wording in it similar to this, would this be legally binding? In a more broad sense, what are the limits--if any--to what can be legally binding within a contract?

  • Probably a duplicate of other questions regarding contracts. There are lots of limitations but the one that is going to make that provision void is that you can't contract to perform illegal activities. – Patrick87 Jan 15 '16 at 17:50
  • Gotcha, thanks for the info. I tried to find an answer to this but I couldn't find anything specific to this. – Aeolingamenfel Jan 15 '16 at 17:52
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In general, you cannot contract to do anything illegal.

However, ...

An argument could be made that permission has been granted to, for example, enter property and remove the item. If permission has been granted, entering property and taking an item is not a crime.

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I would say that the buyer has given permission to steal the item sold. But they can only give permission to steal from their own property. So if the buyer sold on the item, the first seller would have no right to steal back from the second buyer. If the buyer lends the item to a museum, it’s remotely possible that taking away the item would not be a crime, but action around it (breaking in, damaging things) would be, and if there was a contract about the lending, that could be breach of contract.

Altogether, a total mess.

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First of all, generally speaking, one cannot enter into a contract for something that is against the law. Or rather, any such contract that had such a clause would be void on its face (or at least the offending clause...it might be separable).

So the "heist" would have to be conducted in such a way that it didn't break the law. I.e., a burglary would be an inappropriate way to "repossess" the recording, as it would be an illegal act on its face. HOWEVER, even if they did do a B&E and steal the recording, and this invalidated the contract, they could retain possession, but would have to give back the original price paid, because they themselves voided the contract.

Interesting idea. Problem is, there's an element of recursion in the reasoning.

  • The contract says that theft returns ownership to the seller. It doesn’t say that the contract is invalidated or voided. The theft could happen 50 years from now, the purchase price would compensate seller for not being in possession of the item for 50 years. – gnasher729 Sep 11 at 9:48

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