A number of years ago in a distant ward, a counselor in a bishopric told me how he was approached by someone on the street selling watches. The sales pitch was straightforward: “Wanna buy a luxury watch? It’s cheap because I stole it.” I was shocked as this member of the Church then explained that he bought the watch for $40 and went to a jeweler to see what it was worth. The jeweler took one look at the watch and said, “Let me guess. You bought this from someone who said they had stolen it, right? These are worth about $7. They are shipped here in bulk from China.” Ha ha. We were all supposed to chuckle and continue our work, which at the moment involved processing tithing donations (I was a clerk at the time). But I was troubled, wondering how this man could be comfortable with having such stewardship in the Church.
The same watch scam continues all over America today, though the thieves selling the watches may not overtly state that the goods are stolen. But they are stolen, for these pirated goods violating the trademarks and patents of reputable companies represent some degree of theft of their brand and intellectual property. To profit from the illegal pirating of goods is simply wrong. To purchase counterfeit goods, or goods that were obviously produced by outright theft of intellectual property and trademarks is wrong.
Unfortunately, counterfeiting of goods has become rampant. Theft of intellectual property is rampant. And some of it is institutionalized and made to appear acceptable. When you purchase a $40 DVD player, for example, you can be sure that the foreign company that produced it has not paid the over $20 of royalties (and perhaps much more) that should be due at a minimum to the holders of the patents governing DVD technology. OK, maybe we don’t need to make WalMart’s problem in sourcing become our moral dilemma. But I would like to encourage all of us to do our best to avoid the temptation to buy goods that are stolen, or based on some form of theft.
Oh, and did I mention Ebay? When you buy a commercially available consumer product there for far less than its normal retail price – like razor blades, for example – you are probably dealing with stolen goods. A thief can walk out of Gillette warehouse carrying thousands of dollars of razor blades. Then what? Why Ebay, of course. (But this does not mean that heavily discounted goods were stolen, but certain product categories are subjects of rampant theft. And yes, there are many legitimate outlets of discounted and often discontinued goods.)
Update: One particular problem is ripped off DVDs and music. For organized crime groups, it is now more profitable to deal in pirated DVDs than illegal drugs. When you buy DVDs of hot movies from a street vendor at one-half or one-fourth the price of the actual DVD, or if you are buying it before the official release of the DVD, you are almost certainly buying a product of organized crime. And yes, it’s a stolen product. Not that the physical DVD was stolen from someone’s warehouse, but the content of the DVD was stolen from its owner and illegally reproduced and sold, without the owner receiving any compensation for his or her investment and creation. To enjoy these stolen goods (and to support organized crime) surely must be considered a sin.
“Wanna buy something cheap? It’s stolen.”