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From the Wikipedia:

"Ownership is the state or fact of exclusive rights and control over property, which may be an object, land/real estate, intellectual property (arguably) or some other kind of property. It is embodied in an ownership right also referred to as title." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ownership)


"What constitutes ownership?

Ownership is by its very nature exclusive. It means that you, granted by society or by your own strength (given if you live in an area plagued by social chaos) holds a physical object, a bit of land or a privilegie, and that you have the right to interfere and punish people who also are trying to use that property.

Some things are naturally exclusive, as the food you have been eaten or the (particular) energy you have used in operations of electronic equipment. Some things could be made exclusive through laws or the use of force, like most of the things you are owning - these things are thus exclusable. Some things are naturally inexclusive, like air or a stream of fresh water.

In most of Europe, the usual way to organise the administration of property or land, is to deal it out in the forms of ownerships, which are sellable (and then of course buyable), rentable and possibly to use as a security for debt. By definition, we could then say that Europe works by allocating out ownerships and reaffirming them through legal and physical means (police, courts).

The ownership grants are very different in size and forms, and the rules tend to vary between European countries, but yet, the general tendency is clear. We are supposed to operate the machinery, the water and the living we have through ownership." (http://en.technocracynet.eu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=155&Itemid=137)


Eric Olin Wright:

""Ownership" is a multidimensional idea involving a bundle of different kinds of enforceable rights (i.e. effective powers) over things.

Ownership varies along three dimensions:

1. The agents of ownership: who is the holder of the ownership rights.

2. The objects of ownership: what sorts of things can be owned and what sorts cannot be owned.

3. The rights of ownership: what sorts of rights are entailed by ownership..

The problem of ownership is especially complex since different kinds of ownership rights may be distributed across different kinds of agents in different ways for different objects of ownership. Consider, for example, the common notion that in capitalism the means of production are privately owned. The means of production are a particular object of ownership. To say that they are privately owned means that individuals and organizations outside of the state (such as corporations and nonprofit organizations) have the right to make various kinds of decisions about the means of production without interference by the state and other nonowners. In practice, however, the actual ownership relations over the means of production in all capitalist economies are more complex than this since the effective power over many aspects of the use of the machines, buildings, land, raw materials, and so forth have been removed from the private owners and are held by the state. Owners of firms, for example, are restricted in how they can use their means of production because of health and safety requirements. They cannot freely contract with a worker to ignore these requirements, and thus in this specific respect they are not full owners of the machine; some of the rights of ownership have been taken over by the state. Capitalists do not even have full property rights in the flow of net income (profits) generated by the use of their means of production since the state imposes various forms of profits taxes on that income. In effect the profits that are generated by the use of means of production are divided between a public entity - the state - and the private owners. This, of course, is why libertarians say "taxation is theft".

In the present context we are concerned with the problem of ownership primarily because of the ways in which it bears on understanding how different kinds of economic systems work. For this purpose, of particular importance are ownership rights to transfer property rights (which in the case of private ownership means the right to sell or give away what one owns and buy what other people own) and rights to control the use and allocation of the surplus generated with the use of the means of production (i.e. the net income generated by the use of the means of production). Here I will use the term "ownership" mainly in this narrower sense of the right to transfer property and the rights over the surplus, and use the terms "power" and "control" to describe the effective capacity to direct the use of the means of production. In these terms we will distinguish capitalism, statism, and socialism both in terms of the kind of power that is deployed over economic activities (economic power, state power, and social power) and in terms of the nature of ownership of the means of production (private ownership, state ownership, and social ownership).

The ideas of private ownership and state ownership of the means of production are familiar: private ownership means that individuals and groups of individuals have legally enforceable rights to buy and sell income-generating property; state ownership means that the state directly retains rights over the disposition of means of production and the net income which it generates. But what does "social ownership" mean? This is both less familiar and less clear. Social ownership of the means of production means that income-generating property is owned in common by everyone in a "society", and thus everyone has the collective right to the net income generated by the use of those means of production and the collective right to dispose of the property which generates this income. This need not imply that this net income is simply divided up equally among everyone, although that could be one expression of the principle of common ownership. Common ownership means that people collectively have the right to decide on the purposes to which the means of production are put and on the allocation of the social surplus - the net income generated by the use of means of production - and this is consistent with a wide range of actual allocations.

The term "society" in this definition does not mean a nation-state or country. Rather, it refers to any social unit within which people engage in interdependent economic activity which uses means of production and generates some kind of product. In Israel the traditional kibbutzim would constitute an example of social ownership: all of the means of production in the kibbutz were owned in common by all members of the community and they collectively controlled the use of the surplus generated by the use of those means of production .Worker cooperatives also can constitute an example of social ownership, depending upon the specific ways in which the property rights of the cooperative are organized. It is thus possible for an economic structure to consist of units characterized by social ownership as well as private ownership and state ownership.

The lines of demarcation among these three forms of ownership are not always clear. If the state is controlled in a deeply democratic manner, then state ownership may become very much like a specific form of social ownership. In a democratic society does the state own the national parks or do "the people" own the parks? If individual members of a producer co-op are assigned individual shares in the cooperative which they can sell and which give them individually differentiated claims on the net income of the economic activity, than the social ownership of the cooperative may begin to look much more like a form of private ownership. If in an otherwise capitalist economy the state imposes restrictions on the transfer of property rights (eg. export controls over flows of capital) and regulates the allocations surplus for different kinds of investments, then private ownership can begin to look more like state ownership." (http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22074)


  1. Ownership of Software vs. Ownership of Goods
  2. Open Source - Ownership

More Information

See the Wikipedia article wikipedia:Private property

  1. Property vs. Possession
  2. Ownership vs. Usership


  1. Marjorie Kelly on the Emerging Ownership Revolution
  2. Citizen Ownership
  3. Mutual Home Ownership

Listen or watch:

  1. Rishab Ghosh on 200 Years of Collaborative Ownership
  2. Karl Fogel on the History of Copyright and Information Ownership