The Emergence of International Property Law

44 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2011 Last revised: 18 Oct 2011

See all articles by John G. Sprankling

John G. Sprankling

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law

Date Written: 2011


Title to deep seabed minerals, ownership of cultural objects, transferable allowances to emit greenhouse gases, security interests in spacecraft, and rights of indigenous peoples in ancestral lands are all components of a new field: international property law.

Scholars have traditionally viewed property law solely as a national concern. Indeed, the conventional wisdom is that international property law does not exist. But if we ask how international law affects private property, we find a substantial body of international property law that governs the rights of individuals, businesses, and other non-state actors. Some components are well established, while others are still evolving.

This article first examines the antecedents of international property law. It then develops the thesis that this law stems from four main sources: regulation of the global commons; coordination of transboundary property rights; adoption of global policies to prevent specific harms; and protection of human rights. It concludes by analyzing the challenges that arise from the emergence of international property law.

Forty years ago, international environmental law emerged as a new field. Today we stand on the threshold of a similar era in international property law. This article argues that the time has come to recognize international property law as a discrete subject, and thereby promote its coherent evolution in future decades.

Keywords: property, international law, international property law, global commons, high seas, outer space, UNCLOS, minerals, Kyoto Protocol, emissions allowances, satellite orbits, expropriation, intellectual property, TRIPS, hazardous wastes, endangered species, CITES, cultural objects, contraband

Suggested Citation

Sprankling, John G., The Emergence of International Property Law (2011). North Carolina Law Review, Forthcoming; Pacific McGeorge School of Law Research Paper No. 11-06. Available at SSRN:

John G. Sprankling (Contact Author)

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law ( email )

3200 Fifth Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95817
United States

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