Sale of Goods Act Reform: What does “goods” mean?

Quite obviously, the scope of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 relates to goods. What is however not quite certain is what the term “goods” covers. It is imperative to establish what amounts to goods as that is important in determining the scope of the Sale of Goods Act 1893. This inquiry becomes even more significant because of the level of technological advancements in modern times. In 1893 when the Sale of Goods Act was enacted, the concept of goods was different from what that concept embraces today. The definition of goods under the Sale of Goods Act 1893 is one area that needs to be modified to make the statute (or its replacement) realistic and contemporary.

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Definition of goods under the Sale of Goods Act 1893

Section 62 of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 cryptically provides that the term “goods” includes “all chattels personal other than things in action and money”. It further provides that the term includes “emblements, industrial growing crops, and things attached to or forming part of the land which are agreed to be severed before sale or under the contract of sale.”

Certainly, this definition of the term “goods” may have been good enough for the time when the Act was enacted; but, in relation to modern times the definition is clearly inadequate. It does not include certain items in modern use which cannot be said not to be goods. On account of this exclusion occasioned by the archaic nature of the statute, the Sale of Goods Act 1893 qualifies for reform.

Shortfall in the definition of goods

As already noted, a major shortfall in the definition of goods in the Sale of Goods Act 1893 is in relation to the limited notion of goods under the Act. The definition for the term contained in section 62 excludes certain items which are in common use in modern times and which, to all intents and purposes, should be rightly classified as goods. We shall consider three of such items: gas, electricity and digital products.

Gas: The definition of goods in section 62 of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 does not cover gas unless it is stored in a container (for example, a cylinder). When it is stored in a cylinder, the gas and the cylinder in which it is stored may be termed goods as that would clearly be chattel personal. However, when the gas is not stored in a container, it becomes difficult to fit it into the definition. The question then is: does gas in its nature not qualify to be referred to as goods?

Electricity: Even with limited scientific knowledge, it is not difficult to appreciate the existence of electricity. This is so even though it cannot be physically seen. Does this then mean that electricity does not qualify as good? When payment is made for power supply, is the consumer paying for goods or services?

Digital products: In this age of information and communication technology coupled with the changing methods of communication and reading, the fate of digital products vis-à-vis the Sale of Goods Act 1893 is precarious. While it may be contended that where digital products (for example, ebooks, software, digital games, etc) are sold when copied unto storage devices such as discs, flash drives, etc they qualify as goods since it is possible to classify such devices containing the digital products as chattels personal. However, when the same digital products are made available online for download, the certainty of their classification as chattels personal becomes unclear, fluid and confused. The question is: can digital products, whether saved in storage devices or downloadable online, not qualify as goods?

The above mentioned issues are grey areas which any reform of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 in the 21st century should address.

Suggestions for reform

It is clear that the definition of goods in the Sale of Goods Act 1893 does not accommodate some items which are of common use in modern times in relation to 1893 when the Sale of Goods Act was enacted. Therefore, any reform of the Sale of Goods Act 1893 must ensure that the definition of the term “goods” which defines the scope of the statute is comprehensive, contemporary and conclusive. The definition should accommodate all items that necessarily are the subject matter of sales transactions. The importance of clarifying this matter cannot be over-emphasised. With the increasing dominance of the internet and the dependence on ebooks (so much so that a popular online store reputed for selling books claims that it now sells more ebooks than physical paper books), this inadequate definition is a major gap in the Sale of Goods Act 1893 which must not just be filled, but must be filled at the next available opportunity of doing so.

Next week, we shall discuss another relevant issue in relation to the reform of the Sale of Goods Act in Nigeria. But should you have any comments on the suggested amendment to the definition of the term “goods” in the Sale of Goods Act 1893, kindly share them using the comments area of this post below. If you are already a registered user, you will be required to log in to comment on this post; otherwise, you will have to register before posting your comment. Registration is simple and FREE.

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  1. […] relating to the Sale of Goods Act 1893 that should be reformed [see here, here, here, here and here]. In this concluding article relating to the reform of the sale of goods legislation in Nigeria, we […]

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