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Is the original owner entitled to their property back while I am entitled to recover the sum paid for it from party A, or does the item somehow become rightfully mine, or... how does this all work?

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    Sometimes, party A is the police! One way that can happen is through the auction of goods seized through police raids on criminal activity.
    – Paul
    Jan 11 at 0:06
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    If party A hasn't spent the proceeds, would that make the answer obvious to you? If so, and if party A has spent the proceeds, why do you think that would change who's entitled to what from whom? Money is replaceable. I can't think of any scenario where spending money you owe someone would change anything in the eyes of the law (if you're unable to return the money in a timely fashion, then different legal measures may be taken to deal with that).
    – NotThatGuy
    Jan 11 at 10:59
  • What happens if party C buys the item from party B (previously me) after party B had bought the item from party A, which party A had obtained improperly (eg through theft) from the rightful owner, party O? Presumably then O is still entitled to the item back from party C, and party A ought to get charged for stealing it, so C would lose out on the item, but what would be the rest of the fallout/resolution?
    – Ohan
    Jan 11 at 11:01
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    Just avoid buying stuff at parties.
    – copper.hat
    Jan 12 at 6:02
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    @NotThatGuy There should be some provision in the law for not wasting time on minor cases. Of course one can sue for stealing a single dollar, but if not, I would not expect the police drops other cases to work on that. But then, you could have stolen 1 dollar from a bank, by collecting rounding errors smaller than cents from thousands of transactions. Jan 13 at 5:39

2 Answers 2

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The "original" owner remains the only legal one.

Party A goes to jail.

You get entitled to recover the money from A (unless you knew that the item was stolen — in which case the money will go to the government and you may go to jail with A).

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Jan 11 at 15:09
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Expanding on Greendrake's answer, in the UK and many other countries, the basic rule is that you cannot transfer ownership, if you don't have that right in the first place.

There are some few kinds of things where this rule may not hold, depending on what was stolen and how, where/how sold, and which country. Intangible assets like stocks or rights, could be an exception in some places. Land, and rights in land,could be an exception in others. Most sales that took place in a venue that was a traditional public marketplace used to be an odd but true exception in the UK from memory. But that's the basic rule for most common things.

  • If A steals from someone (V), A doesn't become an owner in law. Just a keeper. A may well be in possession of your diamond ring, but they aren't the owner of it. The original person V is still the owner. That's why lost property is returned not kept. It belongs with the owner.

  • When you "buy" the ring off A, A has cheated you. A has implied that A was the owner, and as owner, gives you ownership in return for money. But as A was never the owner, A never actually gave you ownership. You were fooled.

  • What you now have is mere possession of the ring, not ownership. That's all. You are no more its owner than if you found it lying in the street, because A never in fact transferred ownership to you, because they didn't have it themself. V is still its owner, that hasn't changed. As owner, V is entitled to tell you, you must give them the ring back. In fact if you don't, you may be legally committing a crime - keeping someone else's property once you know it is stolen goods. So you have nothing - no ring, no money.

  • What you do have, is a right to go back to A, and say "You deceived me about that ring. You represented that you had the right to sell it, but you didn't. Give me my money back". And to sue them if they don't. But that requires finding A, being able and willing to sue A, and if you win, being able to get your winnings off A somehow.

  • Update: Note that if you bought the ring using a credit card, PayPal, finance plan, or something else that guarantees the validity of the purchase or acted as a financer for the purchase, they may have a legal duty to repay you, as well, and they are probably easier to get money back from, than A. So that's realistically your better route to a refund. As above, * they * now need to get their money back from A. That's their problem and they could have more chance of success than you do.

This can work in a chain.
It also doesn't change things, if someone knew, or is an innocent victim.

If A stole it, fenced it to B, who advertised it and sold it to C, who gave it in good faith as a gift to D, then all those transanctions are null and void.

A could never give ownership to B. Therefore B never being owner, could never give ownership to C, and C never being an owner could never give ownership to D.

So the ring still goes back to V. D has nothing. C was an innocent victim but still has nothing unless they can claim off B. And so on.

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    What if e.g. X steals a 1kg block of marble from Y, who sells it to Z and then spends a month carving it into a figurine. Would Z have the right to demand that Y accept a block of marble of comparable quality to the original, while retaining his property interest in the figurine?
    – supercat
    Jan 10 at 22:51
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    I'm not a lawyer, but logic says, what if you wake up and Banksy painted a mural on your concrete block garage wall (as he apparently does, now and then). The wall is yours - does banksy obtain a right to cut down and take your wall for its art value and replace with an equivalent wall at his own expense? No. Does banksy retain some kind of ownership interest in the mural? Don't know. But the situation is legally the same, I'm sure of it. The fact is was stolen or not, vs just artistically modified without consent, it's probably the sane outcome legally. My guess.
    – Stilez
    Jan 10 at 23:46
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    @supercat Where the item stolen is a commodity, simply paying the value of the item is normally acceptable. Normally it needs a court injunction to make you give back the item or an equivalent value, and the court can decide whether that's OK.
    – Graham
    Jan 11 at 0:02
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    @RobbieGoodwin - almost all regular tangible everyday items. The intangibles simply come under different laws if not this one, for historical reasons or because they are technically better suited to different wordings. (For example one can't actually steal land, because a specific plot of land stays where it is, and can't be moved. And a land title is an entry in a land register, so * that * can't be "stolen" either, technically. So technically, one might say, one can only defraud/misrepresent the title to land, or unlawfully exert control over it, but not "steal" it.. That kind of thing.)
    – Stilez
    Jan 11 at 11:50
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    @Angel, it was purely the easiest "everyday + accessible" example I could think of, of a third party modifying your property unconsented, and in a way that added extra value or personal rights implication for the third party. People dont usually steal stuff and creatively as an artist improve it. I figured a more accessible example might be useful, is all :) Anything beyond that, is getting off topic. But yes, interesting indeed!
    – Stilez
    Jan 12 at 1:16

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