Exclusive rights can be established by law or by contractual obligation, but the scope of enforceability will depend upon the extent to which others are bound by the instrument establishing the exclusive right; thus in the case of contractual rights, only persons that are parties to a contract will be affected by the exclusivity.
Exclusive rights may be granted in property law and intellectual property law as well as in relation to public utilities. Many scholars argue that such rights form the basis for the concepts of property and ownership.
In relation to property, an exclusive right will, for the most part, arise when something tangible is acquired; as a result, others are prevented from exercising control of that thing. For example, a person may prohibit others from entering and using their land, or from taking their personal possessions. However, an exclusive right is not necessarily absolute, as an easement may allow a certain level of public access to private land.
Most governments recognize a bundle of exclusive rights in relation to works of authorship, inventions, and identifications of origin. These rights are sometimes spoken of under the umbrella term "intellectual property." An example is copyright, which grants a copyright holder a negative right to exclude others from exploiting their artistic or creative work. The position is generally similar with patents and trademarks. Exclusive rights arise from a grant of patent or registration of a trademark, while in other cases such rights may arise through use (eg. copyright or common-law trademark).
Holding an intellectual property right generally means that the rights holder can maintain certain controls in relation to the subject matter in which the IP right subsists. For example, a person who buys a copy of a computer program which is subject to copyright may use the software for personal use, but will probably be prohibited from creating or distributing copies of that software, subject to certain exceptions such as fair use or fair dealing, which vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
In continental Europe there is a view that copyrights, patents, and the like are the codification of some kind of moral right, natural right, or personality right. However, such arguments can only be consistently justified through instrumentalism or consequentialism, as exemplified by the reasoning evident in Article One of the United States Constitution that copyrights and patents exist solely "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts."
Privately granted rights, created by contract, may occasionally appear very similar to exclusive rights, but are only enforceable against the grantee, and not the world at large.