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A servitude is a limited right that someone has to use the land belonging to another eg a right of way (=a path or road over private land which people are legally allowed to use). It can also be used in more general terms to refer to a claim or other liability attached to a piece of property.

Servitudes allow people to create long-term arrangements for a wide variety of purposes, including shared land uses, maintaining the character of a residential neighbourhood, commercial development, or historic property; and financing infrastructure and common facilities.

In the United States there are three basic types of servitudes: easements, covenants, and profits. Easements allow the right to enter and use, for a specified purpose, land that is owned by another (eg the right to install and maintain an electric power line over someone else’s land). Covenants force a landowner to do something for, or give a landowner the right to receive something from, someone else. Examples of covenants are agreements between owners of a piece of land that they will pay charges to a homeowner’s association and agreements with an owner of a business on a piece of land that another piece of land in the area will not be used by a competing business. Profits give someone the right to enter and remove natural resources (eg sand and gravel) from the land of another.

In some jurisdictions, the term servitude as outlined above is considered archaic and is rarely used. However, in general English, the word is still used to refer to state of being a slave or completely subject to someone more powerful.

The Scottish government have introduced a new law aimed at preventing servitude. Speaking about the new law, Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said “We will do everything in our power to crack down on those who exploit people for forced labour, sex or domestic servitude and making trafficking easier to prosecute will give our law enforcement agencies a powerful new tool in their armoury.”