If someone owns something does that mean they are free to do with it whatever they want, as long as they don't break the law? Or can someone own something with additional restrictions imposed on it? For example if someone bought a vacuum cleaner from their neighbor but agreed not to use it at night, would that be considered owning the vacuum or licensing?

Is owning something the same as having a perpetual license with no terms or restrictions? As an aside, I once heard it makes a big difference if you pay for a license or if it's free, for example paying implies the license is sublicensable. Is this legal doctrine or just manor of some courts?

1 Answer 1


Ownership is a property right enforceable by specific performance as well as suits for money damages, capable of being stolen even in jurisdictions with narrow definitions of theft (that still include intangible property), and superior to all other claims (except possibly other ownership claims and sovereign claims) to the property. A government taking of an ownership right is prima facie something for which eminent domain payments must be made unless it comes within exceptions for, e.g., police powers and war powers and property that was contraband when acquired.

A license, even if perpetual and unrestricted is a contract right. It is not always enforceable by means other than money damages unless it expressly provides for another remedy. Breaching a license is generally a breach of contract but not conversion or theft (except in jurisdictions that define theft extraordinarily broadly). It needs to be granted by an owner and is often not assignable. It has the status of a contract rather than a property right in bankruptcy and thus can be discharged. Establishing that a license is property for purposes of a lawsuit seeking compensation from the government for a "taking" is often challenging.

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