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by Ian Fortey
Some people have bizarre notions on what they can lay claim to in the world. Like you probably accept that you can cook a ham and call it your own, but what do you do when you want to lay claim to a smell, or weather, or a natural disaster? Well ...
The State May Own Your Rainwater
When I was a wee lad, my grandparents had a rain barrel out by their garage to catch runoff from the roof. It was a big, chocolate brown monstrosity bound with massive black iron rings, and it was the most disgusting thing on Earth. The inside was lined with a thick coating of moss, and squirrels routinely used it as a means of ending their own lives. They never used the water for anything, either. It was just there, being stagnant and weird for all eternity. And in places like Utah, it would have been straight up illegal. The government owns that rain.
Does that mean you can sue the government for ruining your leather boots?
In Colorado, a law wasn't passed until 2016 that allowed a homeowner to collect up to 110 gallons of water for use on their own property. Don't you dare think of using it next door or on the street. In Oregon you can only collect rainwater on your roof. Whatever lands in the yard belong to the Mole Men below. In Utah, you can register to collect up to 2,500 gallons of rain or remain unregistered and max out at 100 gallons.
The reasons for banning rainwater collection have to do with mostly confused notions of water tables, water conservation and maybe the aliens from the movie Signs, fearful of being destroyed after all their hard work crossing the galaxy. We just don't know for sure. Most states will happily let you own whatever dampness accumulates on your own property, but you do need to check just to be safe. You don't want the Bureau of Rain and Morning Dew kicking your door in at 3 am to haul you to a detention facility full of scofflaws.
Hasbro Owns The Rights To The Smell Of Play-Doh
Remember Play-Doh? That squishy, colorful and oddly salty treat from your childhood that you weren't supposed to eat? It was the best. It still is! And one of the most distinctive things about those little cups of dough was that smell. It was like a wheat-coated foot, soaked in salt water. Turns out Play-Doh probably has no smell of its own when it first gets pooped into existence by the elves that make it. The smell is actually added afterwards so you know you have the real deal. And to protect that distinct stink, the smell has been trademarked.
You definitely ate some. Don't even try to lie about it.
The idea of trademarking a recipe seems legit and sensible. You created a thing and put it down on paper and now it can be legally yours. No one is likely to argue with that. But the smell of a thing? That's literally some gas and particulate floating around in space. That's a pie at grandma's house. That's a fart in an elevator. How can you claim to own that? I mean, I can understand colognes and perfumes doing it, because they're actually selling the smell, itself. The smell is the product. But in this case, the smell is incidental. Nobody buys Play-Doh just to sniff it. At least we hope.
Regardless of the ephemeral nature of smell, Hasbro does, in fact, own Play-Doh stank. You can't add that stank to your pizza or make Play-Doh Febreze or even make sensual Play-Doh cologne. Fun fact, that last one isn't a joke ... there's real Play-Doh cologne out there for when you want to go to an important meeting and make everyone in the room ask "Hey, did Jerry have sex with some Play-Doh?" You know, assuming your name is Jerry.
George Raymond Buttle Bought A Volcano
Supervillain real estate is an under-appreciated marketplace these days. You can't just set up shop as a devious shadow entity in your garage or a Tesla headquarters. A good super villain needs a super villainous lair. If only you could actually own a volcano. Well good news, evildoers, you can! Or at least, some people have. It probably takes more than an ad on Craigslist to get one, but still ...
George Raymond Buttle was a stockbroker, so he might have actually been a supervillain to begin with. Whatever his motives, he was well enough off in 1936 that he bought Whakaari Island, near New Zealand. The island had previously been purchased from the Maori people for some rum, because someone is always trying to scam the locals on a land deal. The owner tried to mine sulphur there, but an accident killed all 10 of the miners and left not a trace of their bodies.
This island, complete with volcano, changed hands a couple of times before Buttle got it. Why buy a volcanic island with a history of mayhem? Allegedly because he "rather liked the idea of owning a volcano." That's a motive you can get behind.
Pfft. Let's see him own the rain.
These days, the island and its active volcano are a designated private nature reserve. However, it's still under the control of Buttle's family because no one buys a volcano these days and just gives it up. You hold onto that thing like a chokeslam, and if anyone crosses you, you say something like, "So help me, I will toss you into my volcano!" And you'd mean it.
No one seems to privately own a volcano in the US, but apparently there's no law against it, either. While various government bodies administer them right now, if a new one were to form on your property, for instance, that'd probably be your volcano.
A Former Tenant Claimed His Landlord's Driveway For Over A Month
You've probably heard of squatter's rights, which are a curious set of laws designed most likely by some drunken senators who needed a place to crash. The gist of squatter's rights are: if you can sneak into a place and stay there long enough, maybe that place is yours now? It's the most baffling aspect of law you'll ever come across and it exists all over the place, rewarding the sneaky and punishing the law abiding because *shrug*. Thanks to squatter's rights, if a guy decides that he lives in your driveway, in a shack he built himself, you kind of have to legally respect his shack and go through the arduous, bureaucratic process of getting him removed. We know this because it happened for real.
This story is a little convoluted, mostly due to the face-palming. A man in Canada was living with his common-law wife in a house. The wife was paying the rent, and her name was on the lease. They broke up and she moved out, but he didn't want to leave. So, as one does, he built a crude shack in the driveway of the house and moved in there.
This is what normal humans do, right?
The man who actually owns the house and the driveway discovered this Fallout-style shelter and decided he didn't like it. However, he couldn't just kick the dude out. In fact, he was required to give 24 hours notice to the shackman if he wanted to go on the shack's property. Which was, as we've established, not that man's property at all.
The homeowner called the cops more than once and was informed he was the one who had to leave the property under those obscure "let sleeping shacks lie" laws we mentioned earlier. One you squat, you can't stop, like Pringles, only lazier and probably less hygienic.
Because he had been living in the house at some point, he was legally required to be evicted if the homeowner wanted him out. And an eviction is a civil matter, so cops won't help. Instead, the homeowner had to fill out the paperwork and get it before a judge, a process that is notoriously not expedient. So in the interim, Shackman got to keep on shackin'.
Eventually, the guy moved of his own accord, having lived in the driveway for over a month.
A Man Filed Claim On A New Island That Appeared Off The Coast
Mark Twain once said, "Buy land; they're not making it anymore", and it was pretty damn witty. Not wholly accurate though, because every so often, land creeps up out of nowhere. For instance, all of those volcanic eruptions in Hawaii have created a few square miles of new oceanfront property. It belongs to the government, but it's new land. And then there's Shelly Island, off the coast of North Carolina, that a man named Ken Barlow is pretty sure he owns. It just showed up out of the sea one day and he claimed it as his.
Shelly Island is a sandbar that surfaced in 2017 -- a crescent shaped piece of sand and sea shells near a place called Cape Point. It was land where no land had been before, and Ken Barlow opted to make it his by recording something called a Quit Claim Deed. In North Carolina, the first person who claims ownership of land is effectively the owner of that land. Barlow figured this new land was up for grabs and jumped on it first.
You know, that's actually kind of pretty. We also claim this island.
As you might expect, no one agrees that Barlow owns this piece of land. A Quit Claim Deed doesn't guarantee that you own it, it's just you filing paperwork saying that you do. Generally, you literally have to own the thing first before filing anything. And oddly enough, there are laws on the books regarding the formation of islands out of the blue. Those state that any such land is government property.
In a sad twist, the ocean, perhaps angry with all the feuding over its sandy gift, swallowed Shelly Island up again. Barlow still says he owns it, though, and no one can take it away from him. Except the sea. Which it mostly did.