Possession of Property

You’ve all heard it said that possession is 9/10 of the law. Is it really? What does that mean anyways? Since when could we talk about law with fractions? Well, let me preempt your economic analysis by simply saying that possession is an important property principle.

Possession is not synonymous with ownership or title. It is a distinct term with technical connotations and legal consequences, which are explored in this lesson.

Not long ago Barry Bonds broke the record for most career home runs by a baseball player ever. The ball that put him over the top was was caught by a fan, put up for auction and bought by Marc Echo. (Yah, the clothing guy.) Echo decided to hold an online poll asking the public what should happen to the ball. The public voted and Echo agreed to send the ball to the Hall of Fame, BUT branded with an asterisk to reflect the allegations of Bonds’ steroid abuse. This isn’t the first time ownership of a baseball caused headlines. There was the story about Mientkiewicz and the BoSox World Series clinching ball that broke “the curse of the Bambino.”

And, of course, there’s the infamous case of Popov v. Hayashi. Read it and the notes following at pages 293-306 of our casebook. This lesson integrates with our special screening of “Up For Grabs“, the award-winning documentary about this bizarre case. Believe it or not, there’s a purpose to all this baseball talk. Through these materials, we’ll highlight how elusive and ambiguous the concept of possession can be. A lot of the principles go back to disputes over the capture of wild animals, which you’ll recall came up in the first case we studied, Yanner v Eaton.

The law of finders also demonstrates the relative nature of possession and ownership. To see how, read pages 329-346 for our next class in this lesson.

Studying the law gifts in the next part of this lesson shows how possession can be important to effectively transfer title from one person to another. This topic is covered at pages 346-66.


After this, we’ll be almost 2/3 of the way through the course. As you approach your midterm exam, we’ll hold a wrap-up and review session to prepare you.