The taking possession of those things corporeal which are without an owner, with an intention of appropriating them to one's own use. The title by which one acquires property in a thing which belongs to nobody by taking possession of it with design of acquiring. A mode of acquiring property by which a thing, which belongs to nobody, becomes the property of the person who took possession of it with an intention of acquiring a right of ownership in it.
To constitute occupancy there must be a taking of a thing corporeal belonging to nobody with an intention of becoming the owner of it.
The taking must be such as the nature of the time requires; if, for example, two persons were walking on the sea-shore, and one of them should perceive a precious stone, and say he claimed it as his own, he would acquire no property in it by occupancy if the other seized it first.
The thing must be susceptible of being possessed; an incorporeal right, such as an annuity, could not be claimed by occupancy.
The thing taken must belong to nobody; for if it were in the possession of another the taking would be larceny, and if it had been lost and not abandoned, the taker would have only a qualified property in it and would hold the possession for the owner.
The taking must have been with an intention of becoming the owner; if therefore a person non compos mentis should take such a thing he would not acquire a property in it because he had no intention to do so.
Among the numerous ways of acquiring property by occupancy, the following are considered as the most usual.
Goods captured in war, from public enemies, were, by the common law, adjudged to belong to the captors. But by the law of nations such things are now considered as primarily vested in the sovereign, and as belonging to individual captors only to the extent and under such regulations as positive laws may prescribe. By the policy of law, goods belonging to an enemy are considered as not being the property of any one.
When movables are casually lost by the owner and unreclaimed, or designedly abandoned by him, they belong to the fortunate finder who seizes them, by right of occupancy.
The benefit of the elements, the light, air, and water, can only be appropriated by occupancy.
When animals ferae naturae are captured, they become the property of the occupant while he retains the possession; for if an animal so taken should escape, the captor loses all the property he had in it.
It is by virtue of his occupancy that the owner of lands is entitled to the emblements.
Property acquired by accession, is also grounded on the right of occupancy.
Goods acquired by means of confusion may be referred to the same right.
The right of inventors of machines or of authors of literary productions is also founded on occupancy.