Debts, Money, Intellectual Property, Data and
the Concept of Dematerialised Property
by Andreas Rahmatian*
© 2020 Andreas Rahmatian
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Recommended citation: Andre as Rahmatian, Debts, Money, Intell ectual Propert y, Data and the Concept of Dematerialis ed
Property, 11 (2020) JIPIT EC 186 para 1.
Keywords: dematerialised property; money creation; intellectual property theory; data ownership
While data ownership can theoretically be accommo-
dated fairly easily within the framework of demateri-
alised property, there are several reasons, both the-
oretical and from a legal policy perspective, which
make the introduction of data ownership modelled
upon conventional (intellectual) property rights prob-
Abstract: Debts, (electronic) money, intellec-
tual property, and, in principle, data and digitised ob-
jects (if ownership rights are to be recognised for
these), can be conceptualised as versions of the gen-
eral principle of dematerialised property. This article
discusses first the concept of dematerialised prop-
erty and its application to debts, money and intel-
lectual property. Then it deals with the idea of own-
ership of data within traditional property concepts.
The modern economy relies more and more on
intangible assets, whether nancial assets (ultimately
a form of debt, particularly in its most signicant
version: money), or intellectual property and data,
while the production and sale of physical goods and
assets becomes less important. Some commentators
seem to suggest that the law of property struggles
when it tries to keep up with these developments. In
fact, an underlying concept of modern property law
systems appears well-equipped to meet these new
challenges, and although lawyers hardly address
this concept specically, it is in reality impliedly
accepted: the concept of dematerialised property.
This concept will be discussed in the following
article, with some of its most important practical
applications: debts, money, intellectual property,
and, at least potentially, data and digitised objects.
First, one has to explain how the term ‘property’
is used and understood in the following discussion.
The English word ‘property’, also in its technical-
legal meaning, is ambiguous,1 and at the start of
the discussion it is necessary to dene the term
‘property’ as follows: ‘property’ means (a) assets
or wherewithal or ‘patrimonium’ of a person, (b)
property right, (c) property object or ‘thing’ or res
(the latter term will be used in the following), and,
nally, (d) ‘ownership’, although this meaning is
imprecise and should better be avoided.2
* Professor of Commercial Law at the School of Law of the
University of Glasgow, UK.
1 See also Lutz-Christian Wolff, ‘The relationship between
contract law and property law’, (2020) 49(1) Common Law
World Review, 34-36.
2 Andreas Rahmatian, Lord Kames. Legal and Social Theorist
(Edinburgh University Press, 2015) 221-224.