Difference Between Ownership and Possession

Main Difference – Ownership vs Possession

Many of us think that the two terms ownership and possession refer to the same thing. Both ownership and possession can simply be defined as the act, state, or right of possessing something. However, in legalese, these two terms have different meanings. The main difference between ownership and possession is that possession is having physical custody or control of an object whereas ownership is a right by which something belongs to someone. Since these two terms refer to two different meanings, ownership, and possession of an object, land or intellectual property can be held by two people. Let’s see how this becomes possible.

What is Ownership

The term ownership refers to the exclusive legal right to possesses something. Ownership can refer to owning of an object, land or intellectual property; ownership of property is classified as private, collective or common. Determining one’s ownership of a property includes deciding who has the rights and duties over that property. The term co-ownership means that more than one person has a legal right to the same thing.

Ownership of a property can be gained, transferred or lost in a number of ways. One can own property by purchasing it with money, trading it with other property, inheriting, creating, etc. The owner also has the right to transfer, sell or even destroy the property. The ownership of a property can be also lost by selling, misplacing, destruction or legal means such as foreclosure and seizure.Difference Between Ownership and Possession

What is Possession

Possession can be defined as having physical custody or control of an object. It is important to understand that possession is not same as ownership, though, both possession and ownership of an object are held by the same person in most cases. To understand the term possession clearly, let us look at a small incident. Imagine that you are the owner of a car, but you lend your car to a friend. In this case, your friend has the possession of the car whereas you have the ownership. The same can be said in a case of a stolen object, i.e. a thief has the possession of an object, not the ownership.

The legal differences between possession and ownership are complex, and the term possession is classified into different categories to avoid confusion resulting from this complexity. Actual possession, as explained above, is physical custody or control of an object. Consecutive possession refers to a situation person where a person has actual control of a property without having any physical contact with the property.Main Difference - Ownership vs Possession

Difference Between Ownership and Possession


Ownership is the act, state, or right of owning something.

Possession is the act, state, or right of having physical custody and/or controlling something.


Ownership gives the right to possession.

Possession does not give the right to ownership.


Ownership is always with the owner of a property.

Possession can be given to someone else.


Ownership can be classified as private, collective and common.

Possession can be classified as actual, constructive, criminal, etc.Difference Between Ownership and Possession- infographic

Image Courtesy:

“Shop owner” by fletcherjcm (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

“Pickpocket Macro May 24, 20103” Steven Depolo (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

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