Ownership: Definition, Concept and Kinds

Ownership: Definition, Concept and Kinds


Ownership seems somewhat similar to Possession. It actually looks that first conception of Possession came in to existence and then later conception of ownership came into being. These changes took place as economic structure got changed. It is rightly said that Concept of Ownership came into being when the society changed from Nomadic lifestyle to the agricultural one. These courses of development are enough to explain the principle that the development of law and society are interconnected.
So, in order to study law it is necessary to be aware about society.

Definition of Ownership

There are certain Jurists who defined Ownership. So let’s have a look of some important definitions.

Austin’s Definition: According to Austin ownership as “a right over a determinate thing indefinite in the point of user, unrestricted in the point of disposition and unlimited in the point of duration.” A close look on his definition will let you know that there are basically three main elements:

  • Indefiniteness in point of User
  • Power of Disposal
  • Unlimited in Point of Duration

The incidents given in his definition doesn’t fit in modern scenario.

Holland’s Definition: According to him, Ownership is a ‘Plenary control over an object.’ He was of the view that Owner has three rights on the object owned by him i.e. Possession, Enjoyment and Disposition. He also said that right of possession is inherent of ownership. However there are certain situations when it is separated by owner i.e. Mortgage. The right of enjoyment means the “right of user and of acquiring the fruits, or in increase of the thing… This right is limited only by the rights of the state or of other individuals”. Whereas the power of Disposition not only means the power of alienation but it also includes the power of alteration and also destruction of property.

Salmond’s Definition: The definition given by Salmond is somewhat different from the above mentioned definitions. According to him, “Ownership in most comprehensive signification denotes the relation between a person and any right that is vested in him. That which a man owns in this sense is in all cases a right. Ownership in this wide sense extends to all classes or rights, whether proprietary or personal in rem or in personan, in re propria, or in re aliena; and it applies not only to rights in the strict sense, but to liberties power and immunities.
However his definition on ownership has been criticized by many learned Jurists.

Rights of Ownership

Basically, there are three main rights of ownership, which are as follows:

  • The right of possession of the property owned;
  • The power to dispose off the property;
  • The right of enjoyment of the property, in simple words it means owner is free to deal with the property as he pleases.
    As no right is absolute in nature similar is with this too. There are certain restrictions on these rights.

Classification of Ownership

English law has classified ownership on the following ways:

  • Corporeal and Incorporeal ownership: Ownership can be of two types i.e. one of physical object or of right only. So, if the subject matter of ownership is a physical object i.e. Building, land etc. then its ownership can be classified under corporeal ownership. Whereas if the subject matter of ownership is that of right i.e. Copyright, patent, etc. then its ownership can be classified under Incorporeal ownership.
  • Sole and co-ownership: There are several instances where two or more person have the right of ownership of the same property vested in them in same period of time. So, in simple words when a property is vested in one person only then it is called sole ownership whereas if the property is vested in more than one individuals then it is called Co-ownership for example, Partnership.
  • Trust and Beneficial Ownership: Trust is defined as ‘an obligation annexed to the ownership of property and arising out of a confidence reposed in and accepted by the owner or (b) declared and accepted by him for the benefit of another or of another and the owner’. Here, anyone who reposes or declares the confidence is called the “author of the trust”. The person who accepts the confidence is called the “Trustee” whereas the person who is benefitted after acceptance of confidence is called “Beneficiary”.
  • The person with whom the property vests is called trustee and he also has trust ownership if the property. On the other hand, the person for whose benefit the property is so vested is called beneficiary. He also has the ownership of the same property and his ownership is called ‘beneficial ownership’.
  • Vested and Contingent ownership: Ownership can be either vested or contingent. Ownership can be said to be vested when the owner’s title is already perfect. On the other hand, ownership is contingent when the owner’s title is as yet imperfect, but it is capable of becoming perfect in future on the fulfillment of some some conditions.
  • Absolute and Limited ownership: When a person is vested with all the rights of ownership (mentioned earlier) with any restrictions except that imposed by law in the interest of general society, here the ownership is absolute, On the other hand, when there are limitations on the user, or duration or disposal the ownership is said to be limited ownership.

Modes of acquisition in modern times

There are two different modes of acquisition i.e. Original and Derivative.

  • Original acquisition of Ownership: This mode of acquisition takes place when ownership is acquired by some personal act done on the part of the acquirer. This mode of ownership is of three kinds.
    • Absolute: When a thing is acquired which has no previous owner and hence it is absolute original acquisition.
    • Extinctive: Under this kind, ownership is acquired by a person by some act on his part which extinguishes the title of the previous owner.
    • Accessory: In this acquisition, the ownership of a property is acquired which comes by way of accession to some existing property.
  • Derivative acquisition of Ownership: The mode of acquisition is derivative in nature when the ownership is derived from the previous ownership. For example, by inheritance, intestate and testamentary.


The concept of ownership is quite similar to the concept of possession, however one should not get confused by both of the concepts. Certain distinctions should be kept in mind while reading any of the concept.


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