Fordham Law

Sonia Katyal Coauthors New Book on "Property Outlaws"

February 01, 2010

Do squatters, pirates, and protesters improve the law of ownership? Professor Sonia Katyal says that they do in her new book, Property Outlaws (Yale University Press, 2010). She and coauthor Eduardo Peñalver, a professor at Cornell Law, contend that, in the case of both tangible and intellectual property law, some forms of disobedience can often lead to an improvement in legal regulation. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples ranging from adverse possession in the United States to patent activism in South Africa, Peñalver and Katyal point out groups of people who have intentionally violated property laws. In a number of important cases, the law of property has responded by shifting to accommodate their demands, in the process bringing those groups back within the fold of the law-abiding community.

Katyal and Peñalver argue that in property law there is a tension between the competing demands of stability and dynamism, but its tendency is to become static and fall out of step with the needs of society. They employ wide-ranging examples of the behaviors of “property outlaws”—the trespasser, squatter, pirate, or file-sharer—to show how specific behaviors have induced legal innovation. They also delineate the similarities between the actions of property outlaws in the spheres of tangible and intellectual property.

Their conclusion: a dynamic between the activities of “property outlaws” and legal innovation should be cultivated in order to maintain this avenue of legal reform.
The book is available for purchase from Yale University Press,, and Barnes & Noble; it also is available on Kindle.

Katyal joined the Fordham Law faculty in 2002. Her work focuses on intellectual property, civil rights (including gender and sexuality), new media technologies, and the impact of artistic expression on property entitlements. Her scholarship has been published in prominent legal publications, including the Texas Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review, the UCLA Law Review, and the Yale Law Journal. Learn more about Professor Katyal.