Accessibility statement

Sean Thomas



Dr Sean Thomas
LLB (Durham), PhD (Manchester)


Sean joined York as a Reader in September 2019, having previously held positions at the University of Durham (2015-19, Associate Professor), University of Leicester (2010-13, Lecturer in Commercial Law; 2013-15, Senior Lecturer in Commercial Law) and Anglia Ruskin University (2008-10, Senior Lecturer in Law).

He holds a PhD from the University of Manchester (where he was a Graduate Teaching Assistant). He also holds a PG Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.



Sean’s research concerns, broadly, the transfer of ownership of personal property. He approaches this fundamental issue by examining the interconnections of forms and methods of ownership and control of personal, real and intellectual property drawing on multiple disciplinary and methodological foundations. He has expertise in title conflicts (particularly comparative analysis with United States law), the historical development of commercial law, and the interface between goods and intellectual property. He also has a longstanding interest in radical property practices, and his work on freeganism has been cited widely across disciplinary boundaries and has attracted media and other interest.

Recently his work has concentrated on two areas of growing importance: circular economy, and smart technology. His analysis of law and circular economics is the first in the field; he takes a rather sceptical view of the legal implications of circular economics on the ownership and use of goods. He has also published work examining the interface between sales law and smart technologies; again, he is critical of the possible implications for ownership of goods.

Sean’s work has been cited judicially, by the Law Commission, and the Scottish Law Commission. He is a member of the advisory board to the Everyday Cyborgs project (LINK), and of the Secured Transactions Law Reform Project (LINK).

Sean’s current projects continue to focus on the contested ownership issues arising with the interconnection (or lack thereof) between different areas of law, with projects concerning smart homes, artificial intelligence and sales law, and waste, consumption and circular economics.

Sean is happy to discuss potential research projects in the following fields:

  • Contract Law
  • Commercial Law
  • Land Law
  • Personal Property Law
  • Legal History


Selected publications

  • ‘Smart Homes’ in S Farran, R Hewiston and A Ramshaw (eds), Modern Studies in Property Law: Volume XI (Hart 2021) ch 9, 190-212.
  • ‘Legal considerations for a circular economy’ in T Tudor and C Dutra (eds) A Handbook of Waste, Resources and the Circular Economy (Routledge 2021) ch 17, 176-186.
  • ‘Waste, marginal property practices, and the Circular Economy’ (2020) 12(3) Journal of Property, Planning, and Environmental Law 203-218 
  • ‘English Commercial Law: Chasing Shadows’ in M Gałędek and A Klimaszewska (eds) Modernisation, National Identity, and Legal Instrumentalism: Studies in Comparative Legal History Volume I: Private Law (Brill, 2020) ch 5, 73-95
  • ‘Circular Economy, Title, and Harmonisation of Commercial Law’ in O Akseli and J Linarelli (eds), The Future of Commercial Law: Ways Forward for Harmonisation (Oxford, Hart Publishing 2020) 187-217
  • ‘Personal Property Law for a Zero-Waste Circular Economy: using retention of title clauses to reduce plastics waste’ (2019) 15 (2) Law, Environment and Development Journal 176-207  
  • ‘Law and the Circular Economy’ [2019] Journal of Business Law 62-83
  • ‘Law, Smart Technology, and Circular Economy: All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace?’ (2018) 10 (2) Law, Innovation & Technology 230-265
  • ‘Security Interests in Intellectual Property: Proposals for Reform’ (2017) 37(2) Legal Studies 214-247
  • ‘Mortgages, fixtures, fittings and security over personal property’ (2015) 66 Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 343-365
  • ‘The Development of the Implied Terms on Quantity in the Law of Sale of Goods’ (2014) 35 The Journal of Legal History 281-318
  • ‘Sale of Goods and Intellectual Property: Problems with Ownership’ (2014) Intellectual Property Forum 25-43
  • ‘The Role of Authorization in Title Conflicts Involving Retention of Title Clauses: Some American Lessons’ (2014) 43 Common Law World Review 29-61
  • ‘Transfers of Documents of Title under English Law and the Uniform Commercial Code’ [2012] Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 573-605
  • ‘The Right to Reject for Short Delivery and Termination’ (2012) 11 Journal of International Trade Law and Policy 44-64
  • ‘Goods with embedded software: obligations under Section 12 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979’ (2012) 26 International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 165-183
  • ‘The Origins of the Factors Acts 1823 and 1825’ (2011) 32 The Journal of Legal History 151-187
  • ‘Do Freegans Commit Theft?’ (2010) 30 (1) Legal Studies 98-125
  • ‘Mistake of Identity: A Comparative Analysis’ [2008] Lloyd’s Maritime and Commercial Law Quarterly 188-213



  • Property (as part of Foundations in Law 2 and Foundations in Law 3&4).
  • Legal Concepts
  • Legal Skills

External activities


  • Society of Legal Scholars
  • Socio-Legal Studies Association
  • Member of the Advisory Board of the Wellcome Trust funded project on ‘Everyday Cyborgs 2.0: Law’s Boundary-work & Alternative Legal Futures’ (PI: Prof M Quigely, University of Birmingham)

Contact details

Dr Sean Thomas
York Law School

Tel: +44 (0)1904 32 6473