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James Salzman | Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law | Co-author of Mine!
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Take this interactive quiz on the ownership secrets everyone should know.

We may think we understand the rules of ownership—things like “first come first served,” or “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” But much of what we assume we know is wrong. Savvy businesses and governments know this, and they use our lack of knowledge to their advantage. In his new book Mine! , acclaimed law professor JAMES SALZMAN explores the hidden rules that govern who gets what—shining a new light on contemporary battles over digital privacy, climate change, and even wealth inequality. Salzman and his co-author Michael A. Heller show us, in the fascinating and lively style of Freakonomics, how ownership engineering works, and how harnessing its influence can dramatically transform your life.

“This delicious book will guide you through the confusing maze of ownership disputes that bedevil our daily lives. Who owns your ‘private’ information, your Netflix password, your yard’s airspace, and the chair of your deceased parents that you and your sister now both want? It’s often unclear: read and prepare yourself!”

— Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The beginning of James Salzman and Micheal A. Heller’s book Mine!: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives explores a befuddling and uniquely modern phenomena: who controls the space behind your airplane seat? Is it you, the person who wishes to recline, or is it the person behind you, hoping to use their laptop on the tray table in front of them? Ambiguous situations like these, where there is no shared understanding of ownership, tend to divide people and arouse conflict. And as valued resources grow scarcer, people will only begin competing more intensely to control them. An irresistible blend of psychology, history, and law—illuminated by real-life stories—Mine! reveals that ownership is often up for grabs, if you understand the rules. Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Barton Gellman declares it’s “way too much fun” for such an important book, bestselling author Adam Grant chose it as one of his “Spring Books to Stretch Your Mind,” and a glowing New York Times book review recently wrote, “Heller and Salzman, both law professors, show themselves to be gifted teachers. Their book is part of a genre—call it “pop law”—in which scholars put aside the language of the academy and talk plainly about how law matters in real people’s lives.” In his complimentary talks, Salzman delivers his meaningful insights on ownership alongside a healthy dose of humor and levity—keeping audience members rapt with attention. 

Salzman is the Donald Bren Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law with joint appointments at the UCLA School of Law and the Bren School of the Environment at UC Santa Barbara. He formerly held joint appointments at Duke University, where he was twice selected as Professor of the Year by his students. In twelve books and more than 100 articles, Salzman’s broad-ranging scholarship has addressed topics spanning drinking water, trade and environment conflicts, policy instrument design, and creating markets for ecosystem services. A study by Phillips and Yoo ranked him as the fifth most-cited environmental law professor in the field, and to date, there have been over 100,000 downloads of his work. Salzman’s earlier book Drinking Water: A History, now in its second edition, was praised as a “Recommended Read” by Scientific American and reviewed in both the New York Times and Washington Post.


Salzman frequently appears as a media commentator and has lectured on environmental policy on every continent. He has served as a visiting law professor at Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, and Yale as well as at universities in Australia, China, Israel, Italy, Portugal, and Sweden. An honors graduate of Yale College and Harvard University, Salzman was the first Harvard graduate to earn joint degrees in law and engineering and was named a Sheldon Fellow upon graduation. A Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, Salzman has also earned appointments as a McMaster Fellow and Fulbright Senior Scholar in Australia, a Gilbert White Fellow at Resources for the Future, and a Bellagio Fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, among others.

Speech Topics

Ownership Engineering for a Competitive Edge
Ownership seems straightforward in business: get a patent or copyright when you create something; defend your ownership and charge for its use; don’t invest without clear rules. But much of this wisdom is wrong. The world’s savviest businesses already know this. HBO tolerates theft of its core product; SpaceX forgoes patents; Airbnb opened for business before cities decided whether short-term rentals were legal.

These successful companies are skilled at ownership engineering – a term we define to mean creating value by managing how products and services are owned. It’s easy to overlook this critical step on the path to market success. Businesses spend a fortune on traditional engineering, tweaking every button and knob. But they ignore ownership engineering, assuming it is fixed and unchangeable. This oversight is a costly mistake. Ownership is always up for grabs.

In this talk, Salzman introduces the most successful–and least known–ownership engineering strategies drawn from his new book, Mine!  These approaches aren’t taught in business schools. And you won’t learn them from company lawyers. But those who know how ownership really works are already profiting from these strategies. And so can you.
Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives
 “Mine” is one of the first words that babies learn. It’s no wonder then, that by the time we grow up, the idea of ownership seems natural to us, whether we’re buying a cup of coffee or a house. But what about the situations that aren’t so obvious—such as who controls the space behind your airplane seat, or why HBO looks the other way when you illegally borrow a password to stream their shows?

In their brilliant new book Mine!, James Salzman and Michael A. Heller unveil the six principles that determine—with or without our knowledge—who owns what. These sometimes invisible rules can be thought of as social engineering tools, and they have the power to pick winners and losers in every imaginable setting. Naturally, owners will choose the rule that benefits them, and steer us to do what they want. But the more we understand the hidden maxims underpinning all claims of ownership, the more agency we have.

With a combination of eye-opening stories and compelling research, Salzman brings the contents of his utterly fascinating book to life, showing audiences the simple ways they can wield more control over their lives.