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IANAL, but I believe the concept you're talking about is called "adverse possession," and that it's complicated.

Some say yes, the British Museum should return its fruits of conquest, and other museums have indeed repatriated stolen artifacts. Heck, one recent example involves the owner of Hobby Lobby: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobby_Lobby_smuggling_scandal




The technical term for recognized squatters rights, for instance, is "prescription by adverse possession" or "prescription by good-faith possession". (Obviously varies some by jurisdiction.) The difference is that the law in most places recognizes fault vs no-fault of the possessor, and so the requirements for legal ownership are different, usually about 10 years vs 30 years of possession.

Movable property is much more varied and complicated.


Adverse possession is a doctrine which exclusively applies to real property, i.e., land, and is therefore inapplicable here.




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