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Does Property Class Always Start with a Fox Hunt?

The average 1L Property class starts with the famous Pierson v. Post case, involving the capture of a fox and the resulting ownership dispute. But is that the only way to initially approach property concepts? Professor James Stern discusses why he chooses to start his class from a different perspective. https://youtube.com/watch?v=jkOvpISVZRg


When it comes to teaching property, I don't think there's necessarily one way to skin the cat. I tend not to do what I think of as the standard paradigm, which is to begin with original acquisition of property, property by capture, how you come to own unowned resources out in the wild. To me, and this is just me, that seemed a little bit strange because in most of the stuff around you, the daily life of the property system is not about acquiring ownership of unowned things, but rather about managing a system where everything already is owned. My own approach is a little bit different. I like to start from the beginning with some cases that get at the kind of core of what ownership of property or rights in property of some kind, what that entails, and my basic thesis there is that it entails control as against the claims of others, control over what happens to a particular resource. That's what it means to be the owner of something. By and large, you get to decide what's done with it. From there, I tend to move on and say, "All right, well, what are the different kinds of things that are susceptible to ownership? What does it mean? Can you own a radio broadcasting channel, for example? Can you own a river?" All these different kinds of assets that are out there, and if you can, how might the property system adjust to deal with differences that are presented by different kinds of resources. From there, I try to move on to some, I think, general institutional themes of a property system, some trends or some patterns that seem to hold across different kinds of things that might be within a property system, like rules that govern just what it is when we know that you own something, just what is the sum total that comes with that. If you own an acre of land, do you own a cave that exists underneath it? Do you own the airways all the way up above it? For that matter, do you own the radio spectrum that permeates through it? All kinds of different questions that come up there, and there are all kinds of interesting rules that govern the way those questions are handled and dealt with. I think there is something to be said for the approach I don't follow, which is to start with Pierson versus Post, the fox case, and how it is that you come to own things. there's a lot of overlap between the things that you think about in deciding what it takes to become the owner of something and the reasons for having a property system at all, which are going to suffuse every decision that you make along the way in developing the different rules of a property system.

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