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UPDATED: November 1, 2010 NO. 44 NOVEMBER 4, 2010
Lost and Found: For Free or For a Fee?


Recently, a company dealing in lost-and-found property started up in Nanjing. Company employees say lost property is sent to the company by finders such as dustmen, who can receive 30 percent of a finder's fee. The charges are not set randomly but according to market value. For instance, normally, people have to pay 40 yuan ($6) for a new ID card but it also costs them time and energy, so the company sets 50 yuan ($7.5) as the standard for claiming an ID card. Similarly, 20 yuan ($3) should be paid for a lost pre-paid commuter pass or bank card; 100 yuan ($15) for a business or a driving license; or 40 percent of the balance on a gift card or phone card.

The company says, "We, together with the dustmen, do a lot of work. Owners of lost property can get their items back. It's a win-win result. The payment is a reflection of the value of our work, which has nothing to do with traditional morality."

Supporters say they think, since the company offers a service to owners of lost property, it should be financially rewarded. People who pick up lost property and hand it in to the company should also be paid. This doesn't violate the traditional virtue of "not pocketing the money one picks up."

But many people think the opposite. Some legal experts warn the company may become a channel for disposal of stolen goods by criminals, which will indirectly encourage crimes such as stealing.

A good business

Wang Pan (Jiangnan Times): The Property Law stipulates the finder of a lost-and-found object should properly keep it before it is handed over to the relevant department, and the relevant department also shall do so before it is claimed by the right holder.

On the premise of prohibiting lost-and-found property companies, the "relevant department" should be something like "the police station." When a certain cost is entailed in finding original owners of lost property, individuals or even relevant departments can hardly manage to do it in a timely and efficient way. In this circumstance, should we let the original owners suffer anxiety and pay greater costs?

Although a commercial lost-and-found property venture may encounter problems such as being an avenue for disposal of stolen goods, it is not the worst of many options. Besides, the Property Law stipulates, "The lawful owners of the object, when obtaining a lost-and-found object, shall pay the person who finds the object or the relevant department such necessary expenses as the cost for safekeeping the object." It's the legal basis for the business.

As long as a commercial lost-and-found property company is properly managed, it can avoid certain problems. From my point of view, this business should be treated specially, like keysmiths. If strictly regulated, replacing a lock or key—which is an opportunity for thieves—is still a good service for people who have lost their keys.

Long Minfei (Shenzhen News): There are two ways for morality to play a role: One is a spontaneous mechanism, which relies on mutual supervision by members of society; the other is social intervention, which relies on reward and punishment systems set up by the government or nongovernmental organizations. Commercial lost-and-found property companies belong to the latter, without any doubt. As long as we regard them with a realistic attitude, we should admit their incentive role in encouraging good deeds. We should see a reward for virtue does not call for "drawing water to one's own mill" or denying the essence of morality, but advocating the plain concept of one good turn deserves another, which has been a common tenet among people for a long time.

Besides, the General Principles of the Civil Law of China explicitly stipulates in Article 79, "Lost-and-found objects, flotsam and stray animals shall be returned to their rightful owners, and any costs thus incurred shall be reimbursed by the owners." Meanwhile, the Property Law says when claiming lost property, original owners should pay necessary fees, for instance the keeping fee, to individuals who picked it up or the related department. It shows commercial lost-and-found property companies are backed by the law.

The law in Japan says the owner of lost property should give a finder at least 5 to 20 percent of the value of the property. The law in Germany says if lost property is worth more than a specified amount, people who find it have the right to ask for a financial reward. Apparently, commercial lost-and-found property operations make a certain sense and don't violate the law. Commercial lost-and-found property companies won't lead to a deterioration in morality. On the contrary, the concept they advocate will have certain a positive influence and significance.

Zhu Shaohua (www.scol.com.cn): The foundation of commercial lost-and-found property companies is turning what was measured by morality into something now measured by a more tangible economic value. People who find lost property can not only regain their costs in looking for original owners but also gain a profit. As for original owners, a small fee is much less than the trouble they should have gone through. Isn't this making the best of both worlds? The idea the involvement of money discourages good deeds is not only impractical but also hypocritical.

More precisely, people who pick up lost items and hand them in to lost-and-found property companies have fulfilled their moral obligation. A financial reward is just compensation for their labor and costs during the process. We can't deny anyone's moral standing just because they are financially rewarded. The companies pay a certain cost for finding original owners, and also the cost of renting an office and advertising. This shouldn't have caused such a fuss.

Qiao Zhifeng (www.jx.xinhuanet.com): Compared with the virtuousness of not pocketing found money or items, although commercial lost-and-found property operations have certain flaws, they are very practical. The emergence of these companies offers another possibility for people to get their personal belongings back.

A commercial operation of this type is widely questioned because of the financial reward. I wonder if those opponents have thought about the fact the operations of a company incur certain costs as well, from collecting the lost items to finding the original owner. Since it's a commercial service, the charging of fees shouldn't be criticized harshly.

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