Ownership at stake (once again): housing, digital contents, animals and robots

Publication Date09 Apr 2018
AuthorSergio Nasarre-Aznar
Ownership at stake (once again):
housing, digital contents,
animals and robots
Sergio Nasarre-Aznar
UNESCO Chair on Housing, University Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain
Purpose This paper aims to discussthe questioning around the current suitability of ownershipboth for
accessing to certain property (housing, to be more specic) and chattels (digital contents, animals and
autonomous robots) that have recently ourished, favored by technological advances and the change in the
values of the millennialsina context of crisis.
Design/methodology/approach The process ofsubstitution (e.g. through alternative housingtenures,
such as intermediatetenures and collaborative housing, licensing digital contents)or erosion/elimination (e.g.
owning animals and robots, tokenization through blockchain) of ownership through key types of property
and chattels.
Findings Ownership, both of land and goods, is again at the stake. Technological advances and/or new
valuesof millennials ina context of crisis haveled to questioningthe suitabilityof ownership to favoruniversal
access to housing, of holdingmusic and other digitalcontents, have limitedthe faculties of animalsandpets
ownersand are favoringthe evolution ofautonomous robotsinto subjects oflaw rather than mereobjects.
Research limitations/implications Only key property (housing) and chattels are studied (digital
contents,animals, robots). There is no broad study of the global current situation of ownership.
Practical implications It is discussed how the changes of values and technological advances in a
context of crisis have impacted in the strength andreliability of ownership to allow access to property and
Social implications These changes in ownershipchange how we can access to property (housing) and
to chattels (digital media) and evento changes in what is considered objectsuch as what is happening in
Europe with animalsand robots.
Originality/value This is a new approach to consequences of the crisis in the eld of housing
(fractioningof ownership -temporaland shared ownership-, collaborative economy) and a change of valuesin
the new millennial generation (animals) in this context and owing to the advance of the new technologies
(robots).Is ownership again at the stake?
Keywords Ownership, Housing, Robots, Tenures, Animals, Digital contents
Paper type Research paper
Men sooner forget the death of their father than the loss of their patrimony.
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1513).
Well let me ask you this back, how do you know you are human?
Sophia, rst robot with a nationality (2017).
The liberal conceptionof ownership of the nineteenth century is now more remote than ever.
This paper discusses the questioning around the current suitability of ownership both for
accessing to certain property (housing, to be more specic) and chattels (digital contents,
at stake
(once again)
Received22 December 2017
Revised3 February 2018
Accepted6 February 2018
Journalof Property, Planning and
Vol.10 No. 1, 2018
pp. 69-86
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JPPEL-12-2017-0040
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
animals and autonomous robots) that have recently ourished, favored by technological
advances and the change in the values of the millennials in a context of crisis (since 2007),
and see if, at the end of the day, it is adequate or convenient to substitute (e.g.
through alternative housing tenures, such as intermediate tenures and collaborative
housing, licensing digital contents)or to erode or even eliminate it (e.g. owning animals and
robots, tokenizationthrough blockchain).
1. The progressive questioning of liberal ownership
Ownership in art. 544 French Code civil 1804 or art. 348 Spanish Civil Code 1889 is
conceived as liberal and it includes the right to use,to take fruits and to abuse of goods and
property (ius utendi,fruendi et abutendi[1]). When the modern Civil codes where passed, it
was alreadyclear that there should be some neighboring limitationsto it and its exercise (e.g.
boundaries,nuisances, abuse of law, servitudes; at art. 678Code or arts. 7.2 and 1908 Spanish
Civil Code). But then, a second generation of limitations to ownership came, as it was
compelled to fulll a social function, that is, that the way it is exercised by the owner could
not negatively affect the community. Today, both the art. 14.2 of German Grundgesetz 1949[2]
and art. 33.2 Spanish Constitution 1978 establish social limitations to ownership (e.g. in Spain
the underuse of rural land might thread the national economy, so it can be expropriated
according to the Constitutional Court sentence of 26-3-1987[3]). Historically, there is a set of
German cases that subordinate private patrimonial law to fundamental rights such as Lüth
(1958), Handelsvertreter (1990), Bürgschaft (1993) and Parabolantenne (1994)[4]cases.
But since 2007, the year in which the last nancialand housing crisis started, a third step
towards questioning the adequacyof ownership to access to goods and property has begun
that might affect its robustness[5]. Reasonsmay vary but three elements have facilitated it:
technology change, nancialinstability and change of values of the millennial generation in
a context of crisis[6]. Thus, should anybody still be entitled to own anything they want or,
on the contrary, less afuent people should be excluded from ownership and left for minor
tenuressuch as renting, getting licenses or sharing? Is all in all so important to own your
home or your music? Can you now own your pet at the same time societyconsiders it as part
of the family? Will we really own autonomous robots if they already take their own
decisions, or shouldthey be considered subject of rights instead or willthey even own us?
The scope of the consequences of this new phaseis still to be seen. Above all them, one
question arises: whether our civilization (Western, EU, etc.) can survive constantly eroding
ownership or without a strong private ownership at all. The collapse of communism (the
negation of private ownership by denition[7]) in the past decade of the twentieth century
has proved that it is not easy. Private ownership was early abolished by LeninsDecree
26-10-1917 (by Act 20-8-1918 all private ownership of land in urban communities was
abolished), leading to lands expropriation without compensation; collectivization of rural
land brought millions to cities, increasing the pressure for housing stock that lead to
generalization of communal apartments(exclusive use of a single room, sharing the
kitchen and bathroomwith other households, with delicate privacy issues)[8].
Far before, the equalitarian society (homoioi; at least for the Spartan citizens, the
spartiates) of the Spartan in Ancient Greece was based precisely on the ownership of land:
spartiates weregranted the ownership of a plot of land by the State (kleros)[9] to self-sustain
and to be able to serve in the military. In fact, Spartancrises began with the insufciency of
that plot ofland, the legal impossibilityof selling it[10] and the reductionof the spartiates[11],
while the number of underprivilege d (the hilotes that really worked the kleros and

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