The Cambridge Law Journal


Property in Thin Air

Kevin Graya1

a1 M.A., Ph.D., LL.D. (Cantab.), Drapers' Professor of Law in the University of London at Queen Mary and Westfield College. This paper represents one of the products of a happy period spent in 1990 as a Visiting Fellow in the Division of Philosophy and Law in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. It is inevitable that the thoughts expressed here should owe much to discussion with the Head of that Division, Professor Paul Finn, and also with Dr. Timothy Bonyhady of the Australian National University's Faculty of Law (although neither can of course be held responsible for the perverseness of the author's views). For help in locating materials thanks are particularly due to Ms. Jenny Degeling (of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department, Canberra) and to the Intellectual Property Law Unit at Queen Mary and Westfield College. Some of the ideas contained in this paper were initially presented at the University of Tasmania Law School's Residential Seminar Weekend at Cradle Mountain Lodge in July 1990. In its present form the paper is an extended version of an Inaugural Lecture delivered in the University of London on 1 May 1991.

Proudhon got it all wrong. Property is not theft—it is fraud. Few other legal notions operate such gross or systematic deception. Before long I will have sold you a piece of thin air and you will have called it property. But the ultimate fact about property is that it does not really exist: it is mere illusion. It is a vacant concept—oddly enough rather like thin air.