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Michael Heller | Professor of Real Estate Law at Columbia | Co-author of Mine! (Forthcoming)
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Who gets what and why? Renowned law professor Michael Heller answers this question in his upcoming book Mine! (to be released March 2, 2021) co-authored with James Salzman. Heller reveals that, remarkably, there are just six simple stories everyone uses to claim everything. The exact same stories toddlers use when they struggle over a toy shovel in the playground also shape our fights over digital privacy, wealth inequality, and climate change. In his fascinating talks, Heller opens our eyes to the hidden world of ownership engineering—the process by which top companies influence concepts of ownership to create value—and how you can leverage it too.

“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

“Mine” is one of the first words kids learn. By the time we grow up, these rules seem natural and beyond contest, whether we’re buying a cup of coffee or a home. Mine couldn’t be simpler. But much of what we know about ownership is wrong. Turns out, governments and businesses, parents and toddlers, all use the same few stories to steer us to do what they want. These stories work because they are so ingrained in our everyday lives, but often to our disadvantage. In Mine! How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives (Doubleday, March 2021), Heller takes readers on an eye-opening journey to discover how governments, businesses, and ordinary people stake their claims, and how you, too, can claim your share. The book has received early praise from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Jared Diamond and Barton Gelman, who writes, “I haven’t had an experience like this as a reader since Freakonomics.... The authors deliver a rollicking good read, filled with amazing stories about the secret rules of ownership and why they work in unexpected ways.” Cass Sunstein, co-author of the New York Times bestseller Nudge, adds Mine! is “Immensely clarifying, beautifully written, and perfectly timed—and it might improve the world to boot.” In his enthralling talks, Heller shares his expertise alongside real-life stories that will surprise, enrage, and inspire audiences.


One of world’s leading authorities on ownership, Heller is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor at Columbia Law School, where he has served as Vice Dean of Intellectual Life. He has written several influential books revealing hidden ownership dilemmas, including The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. In it, he shows how cooperation breaks down and disappears wealth when too many people own pieces of one thing—whether a physical or intellectual resource.


Before joining Columbia, Heller taught at the University of Michigan Law School where he received the school’s highest prize for excellence in teaching. He has also taught at UCLA, NYU, and Yale law Schools and been a fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences.

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, Heller 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? What about digital privacy, wealth inequality, and climate change?

In their brilliant new book Mine!, Michael Heller and James Salzman unveil the six principles that determine who owns what. These hidden rules can be thought of as social engineering tools, and they pick winners and losers in every imaginable setting. Owners choose the rule that benefits them and steers us to do what they want. But the more we understand the how ownership really works, the more we can change the rules.

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