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The possibility of assigning contractual rights to third parties has often been taken to suggest that they amount to a form of “property” or “asset.” This point has been seized upon by proponents of transfer-based accounts of contract law, which understand contract as a means of transferring existing rights instead of creating new rights and duties between its parties. In this article, I set out to critically examine the extent to which this assumed compatibility between transfer theories of contract and the assignment of contractual rights can truly be sustained. As I argue, only one version of transfer theory is able to properly account for the way in which assignment actually operates within the common law tradition, corresponding to the version that most closely resembles more orthodox promise theories of contract law by understanding contract as a transfer of rights directly against the person of the promisor. By contrast, I suggest that the dominant version of transfer theory, according to which contract amounts to a transfer of rights over external things, is unable to draw a full distinction between contract and a completed assignment of contractual rights and so is unable to explain the rules that govern the latter class of transaction at common law and in equity.

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