Noisy birds to holograms, eight curious property rights debates in 2019

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 27 December 2019 05:00 GMT

Small boats maneuver through the Amphawa floating market at Samut Songkhram province March 16, 2013. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

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Here is a look at eight property rights disputes that broke new ground in 2019

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK, Dec 27 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fights over property rights extended to pavements, space, the sea, data, dead people's images, and even noises and smells in 2019, with governments scrambling to define and legislate emerging areas of concern.

At the same time, deadly conflicts raged over land and water with at least 108 people killed trying to protect land from industries in 23 nations from January to November compared to 91 a year ago, said human rights advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific.

The Philippines was the deadliest country for a third year with 50 killings, or nearly one killing per week, it said.

Here is a look at eight property rights disputes that broke new ground in 2019:

1. River rights: In February, voters in Ohio approved the Lake Erie Bill of Rights to amend the Toledo city charter to state that Lake Erie had the right to "exist, flourish, and naturally evolve" and to do so free of violation.

It is part of a growing global movement as environmentalists try new legal routes to protect the planet - vesting rivers, reefs and threatened habitats with "rights of nature" that override the long-held human right to harm.

2. Floating homes: In April, Thai authorities threatened death sentences for a couple who had set up an offshore home near a Thai island.

But even that failed to damp the "seasteading" movement that claims the right to floating settlements that advocates say are more sustainable than land reclamation.

With 90% of the world's largest cities vulnerable to flooding, a United Nations-backed partnership earlier said it would study the prospect of floating cities.

3. Rooster rules: In September, a French court ruled that Maurice the rooster could continue his dawn crowing despite complaints from neighbours, in a case cast as a battle between the old rural way of life and modern values creeping in from the city.

It also highlighted the increasing fights among property owners over sights, sounds, and smells they find disturbing.

4. Face off: Also in September, California's legislature passed a three-year ban on state and local law enforcement from using body cameras with facial recognition software, a sign of the growing backlash against the technology that human rights campaigners say poses a threat to civil liberties.

San Francisco and Oakland voted earlier to ban city personnel from using the technology.

5. Space jam: Hotels, insurance, advertising billboards, and in-space manufacturing are among the business opportunities firms are exploring amid a boom in commercial space activity.

Billionaires Elon Musk, Tesla's chief executive, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos are pouring cash into cutting-edge private spacecraft, even as astronomers complained that the 120 satellites Musk's SpaceX launched this year are jeopardising space research. Thousands more are due to be launched.

6. Sidewalk squeeze: The fight for sidewalk space is getting more heated, with pedestrians in Singapore winning the battle in November after a fatality led to a ban on electric scooters on pavements. Countries such as France, Germany and Britain earlier imposed similar bans.

7. Hologram stars: Ethical and practical questions swirled over who owns the intellectual property rights of dead celebrities being resurrected with computer generated images and holograms.

Six-time Grammy winner Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011, was to be featured in a holographic show slated to launch at the end of 2019. It was postponed after the producer said it had run into some "unique challenges and sensitivities".

A Whitney Houston hologram tour featuring the late singer's image accompanied by her original backing band is also planned.

Iconic actor James Dean, who died in a car crash in 1955, is to star in a new movie, where he will be recreated through a mixture of old photos and footage, along with computer generated creations. A different actor will lend his voice.

8. Cosmic country: Private villages, private islands and private countries raised questions about rights and privilege.

In Spain, thousands of empty villages are up for sale, some for less than 100,000 euros ($113,000).

Meanwhile, a holyman who is on the run after charges of abduction and rape in India, has declared the creation of a new country for Hindus, Kailaasa, with its own flag, government and passport.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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