Online retailing giant Alibaba, which owns Taobao and Tmall, is suing two of its vendors that is accused of selling fake Swarovski watches.
The RMB 1.4 million lawsuit is a relatively small price for a company which sold nearly RMB 18 billion worth of goods on Singles Day alone, but the move is seen as symbolically significant because it’s the first time an online retailer has taken action against sellers through the Chinese courts.
Alibaba is desperate to clean up its reputation, having recently been labeled a “notorious market” for counterfeiting by the Office of the US Trade Representative. It has launched an English language version of Taoprotect, its system for reporting fakes, and promises more action in the future. “We want to mete out to counterfeiters the punishment they deserve in order to protect brand owners,” said Zheng Junfang, chief platform governance officer of Alibaba Group. “We will bring the full force of the law to bear on these counterfeiters so as to deter others from engaging in this crime wherever they are.”
In another step forward for intellectual property rights in China, a Shanghai court this month ruled that a Beijing-made animation was a copy of Disney’s Cars. The makers of The Autobots claimed theirs was an original story, but the designs of the characters, the title and even the poster are suspiciously similar to the much-loved Pixar film. The Autobots is less well-loved, having achieved the dubious honor of being the lowest-rated Chinese language movie of 2015 on douban.com.
However these problems are not unique to China. A California company has filed a lawsuit against Ebay, Paypal, and 2000 of their sellers, using legislation aimed at preventing Mafia-style organized crime, while Amazon recently launched its own action against alleged counterfeiters. It’s clear that online retailers worldwide are being expected to do more to ensure that goods sold through them are the real deal – even though many customers are quite happy to pay a bargain price for a convincing fake.