We've been Trumped! China's Alibaba is a 'notorious' knock-offs souk, says US watchdog

Auction site slapped on list as haven for counterfeit goods

The United States Trade Representative (USTR) has put Alibaba's Taobao, the Chinese internet giant's online auction site, on its "notorious markets list" of sites that regularly deal in counterfeit goods.

In a bulletin this week [PDF] the USTR noted that Taobao, which is the world's largest online shopping destination by gross merchandise volume, has made some efforts to shut down fake goods sellers – but it's not enough according to trade ambassador Michael Froman.

"The marketplaces, tactics, and schemes that undermine and threaten America's creative industries change quickly and require our constant attention," Froman said.

"This Notorious Markets List illustrates the seriousness of copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting in online marketplaces. The 2016 List underscores the need for accountable governments everywhere to take on these forms of piracy and counterfeiting at every stage of the global supply chain to prevent final products that put health and safety of end-consumers at risk."

Froman noted that the website has very poor mechanisms for reporting copyright infringement and intellectual property theft, rights holders had real problems getting takedown notices enacted, complaints pages were often not available in English, and the service had many broken links and discontinued email addresses that makes getting in touch with the company very difficult.

In an open letter, Alibaba's president Michael Evans said he was "very disappointed," with the decision. His biz had made strenuous efforts to get rid of counterfeit goods from Taobaom, including more than doubling its fake product takedowns in the last year, he claimed.

"Our results speak for themselves. Unfortunately, the USTR's decision leads us to question whether the USTR acted based on the actual facts or was influenced by the current political climate," Evans said, referring to US president-elect Donald Trump's saber rattling with China.

"Nevertheless, the decision sends the wrong message and is inconsistent with the effective collaborative approach we have taken with brands and governments around the world in our fight against counterfeiting."

Evans pointed out that more than 100,000 brands are happy to do business on his platform and that anti-knock-off operations are always being improved and expanded. He added that these efforts have only expanded since the USTR took Taobao off its list four years ago and would continue in the future.

Being on the list doesn't do you any favors, but there are no direct sanctions either – it's more of a naming and shaming type of deal. Alibaba's share price move fractionally downwards at the news. ®

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