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Alibaba and the thwarted thieves: Cops, bazaar to tackle China's piracy

Magic carpet of tat pulled from under counterfeiters

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The biggest e-shopping site in China - a nation considered the counterfeit capital of the world - has promised to help decapitate the "snake" of knockoff goods.

Online bazaar Alibaba will, we're told, work closely with five government and law enforcement agencies including the Ministry of Public Security and the State Intellectual Property Office.

And the web company's founder Jack Ma heralded the “milestone” partnership during his last public engagement as CEO.

Broadly speaking, Alibaba – which runs Taobao, China's eBay equivalent, and online retailer Tmall – will now share information on counterfeiters who try to sell their goods on its various platforms.

The firm already offers merchants an online reporting system which allows for the removal of infringing listings, of which there were 94 million in 2012 alone. Up until now the culprits have largely evaded capture.

“On e-commerce platforms, every single transaction creates a record, and every piece of information about sellers of counterfeit products is traceable,” said Alibaba's chief risk officer Polo Shao.

“Internet technology … when paired with offline efforts can be used to create targeted initiatives to drive intellectual property protection as well as cut off the head of the snake in an attempt to purge society of counterfeit goods.”

Alibaba said it will also form an intellectual property rights (IPR) protection and anti-counterfeiting task force, to be led by new CEO Jonathan Lu, so that it remains focused on the issue in the future.

The past year has seen something of a turnaround for the e-commerce giant, which until a few months ago was included on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) blacklist of “notorious markets” for piracy.

The USTR has since removed the firm, having seen enough to satisfy it that Alibaba is now on board with its anti-piracy goals.

It’s not clear if the initiative announced this week was done so at the behest of the Chinese government, although it has certainly been mooting tighter regulation of the e-commerce industry. Online fraudsters in the PRC apparently made off with 30 billion yuan (£3bn) in 2011.

The government has also been looking to clamp down more generally on IPR protection, beginning with a US$160 million (£102m) plan to ensure all government-owned software is properly licensed.

It’s obviously in Alibaba’s interest to keep its own house in better order too, especially if the firm eventually wants to IPO, as many say it will soon. ®

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