Law is the system of rules a society or government develops to deal with criminal activity, business agreements, social relationships and the like. It is also used to describe the profession of lawyers and judges who enforce these systems of laws, give decisions and dispense justice. The study of law involves a range of disciplines, including philosophy, history, economic analysis and sociology.
Law covers a vast array of topics, from the very broad (such as human rights) to the extremely specific (the patent law that governs the ownership and protection of intellectual property). Law also encompasses areas that intersect with other disciplines such as public international law, business and management, politics and ethics.
The study of law includes a range of fields of research, such as legal history and philosophy, legal theory, comparative law and legal anthropology. It is also a core subject in a number of schools, including universities offering degrees in jurisprudence and legal studies.
A central focus is the study of how laws are made, and how they work, both in terms of their content and their effect on people’s lives. There are a wide variety of legal systems across the world, each with its own distinctive features. These systems are the source of endless debate and controversy, both in terms of their precise nature and how they should be applied in different situations.
Some of the most important legal issues are contested in courts, and the decisions of these courts are largely the foundation of what we know as “law”. For example, competition law concerns attempts by businesses to influence market prices, drawing on antitrust legislation dating back to Roman decrees against price fixing, English restraint of trade laws and modern U.S. anti-trust laws. Consumer law, meanwhile, deals with everything from regulations on unfair contractual terms to directives on airline baggage insurance.
Similarly, immigration law and nationality law concern the rights of foreigners to live and work in a nation-state and their right to citizenship. Family law concerns marriage, divorce and the rights of children, while the practice of commercial law (including corporate and tax law) relates to business transactions, property and money. Criminal law, in turn, covers all conduct deemed to be harmful to society, whose perpetrators may face imprisonment and fines.
Property law encompasses both real and personal property, from a person’s land to the intellectual property contained in a book or a painting. Laws on land are particularly complex, and include zoning ordinances and a statutory regime for registering ownership of land. In addition, the law on the protection of cultural heritage has become a major area of dispute and public debate in many countries. It is increasingly argued that the traditional approach to this issue, which has relied on law to enforce the “right” of property owners to protect culture from intrusion and appropriation, may be harmful in some circumstances. The use of law to protect culture is currently a matter of much debate both in scholarship and in the media.