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Ownership of stolen property

Ownership of stolen property

Posted Jan 19, 2007 17:12 UTC (Fri) by giraffedata (subscriber, #1954)
In reply to: LCA: The state of the Nouveau project by ibukanov
Parent article: LCA: The state of the Nouveau project

The law of who owns something after it gets stolen and eventually passed to an innocent buyer is just a matter of policy. Neither rule is more moral than the other; it's just a question of which rule reduces theft most efficiently. So it's likely to vary a lot between jurisdictions and over time.

But throughout modern times, English/American law has been that the theft victim remains the owner. There are various exceptions. One is where there is a recorded title, such as with a car or land.

The TV picking case is complicated and the answer depends on the exact facts of the case. It could be that there was no theft -- the TV shop took title to all 20 TVs and thus was able to pass it on to the consumers and the distributor has only the contract dispute. This would be similar to the case where the TV shop takes only the 10 TVs agreed upon, but then doesn't pay for them. Not a theft.

If the facts are such that the TVs were stolen, then the consumers do have to return them to the distributor. The police wouldn't confiscate them, because 1) it's not their job and 2) civil cases like this are normally resolved with money.

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